Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Dakota Center for Independent Living

The Importance of People First Language

For too long, people with disabilities have been subject to devaluation, marginalization, prejudice, and much more. The first way to devalue someone is through language. By using words or labels that identify a person/group as less than or consider them the others, we begin to devalue them. When a person or group has been identified in this way, it is easier to justify prejudice and discrimination. Just as our language shapes our attitudes, our attitudes shape our language. These two things are intertwined and together they control our actions.

People first language is when you put the person before the disability. This can help to eliminate old, prejudicial, and hurtful descriptions. This isn’t about being politically correct, but instead, is about being polite and respecting others. Not only does the way we speak about a person change how we view them, but it also changes how he/she sees him/herself. When we use a diagnosis as a defining characteristic of a person, we create prejudice, and rob the person of the opportunity to define him/ herself.

Too often, we forget just how our words affect our attitudes, drive social policies and laws, influence our feelings and decisions, and affect people’s daily lives and more.

Here are some easy ways to begin using People First Language:

Instead of referring to someone as disabled, refer to them as a person with a disability.

Instead of referring to someone as slow, simple, moronic, etc. refer to them as a person with an intellectual, cognitive, or developmental disability.

Instead of referring to someone as wheelchair bound, refer to them as a person who uses a wheelchair