In our day and age where communication is at our fingertips and information doesn’t need to be studied or memorized to be recollected, but brought before our eyes by just the touch of a screen, I believe that we all, at times, use our sense of speech without putting much thought into how it might affect others. I have been and still am guilty of doing this. This advance in the technological world that we live in has rapidly changed the way people communicate in so many ways, socially and personally.
Prior to becoming the Systems/Community Advocate at Dakota Center for Independent Living, I hadn’t put much thought into ‘People-first Language’. This is a type of linguistic prescription in English to avoid perceived and subconscious dehumanization when discussing people with a health issue or a disability. It is ‘disability etiquette’, but it can be applied to any group which is defined by a condition rather than as a people. Rather than using a label or an adjective to define individuals, People-first Language puts the person before the diagnosis and describes what the person HAS, not what the person IS. I will give you a few examples. If you say ‘that disabled guy’ or ‘that handicapped person’, you are defining them as their disability or their condition. It is much more appropriate to use terminology which describes the individuals as being diagnosed WITH an illness or disorder. Putting the person before the diagnosis is the best way to speak of individuals, as it describes what the person HAS, not what the person IS. Another example: “Do you remember the boy with autism?” It helps the condition define the boy rather than, “Do you remember that autistic boy?” which defines the boy rather than the condition. Do you see how using that label, or an adjective before the person, defines the person rather than the other way around? “People with disabilities” rather than “disabled people” or just “disabled”. They are all PEOPLE first. By using such a sentence structure, the speaker articulates the idea of a disability as a secondary attribute, not a characteristic of a person’s identity. Here is another one: “Those that are homeless”, sounds better than, “the homeless”. While there may be some people that are homeless that may have been diagnosed with an illness or a disorder, (that is another whole subject), but when speaking of their current place of dwelling, they are truly ‘people without a home’.
Like I said, while modes of communication today are not as they were even 10 years ago, we must be more cautious with how we speak, being sensitive of others around us and how our language might affect their day, their person. Even though communication may come easy in today’s world, it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t stay attentive in how we use these vast modes of communication. Think before you speak. I know it is something that I am always reminding myself to do.
At the Dakota Center for Independent Living, we offer a Disability Etiquette presentation that might be beneficial for the business agencies, social groups, or learning centers. Call us to set up a presentation for your venue. 701-222-3636