Person-first or identity-first?

This article was shared by a friend today.

Several previous posts have spoken to recent attention to language in recovery advocacy. (See here and here.)

I think may have pointed to LGBT+ communities’ use of words like “queer” when questioning whether we should change our own language to reduce the stigma that others harbor toward us.

It appears other groups are wrestling with the same questions.

You may have been taught not to use the word “disabled.” In fact, you may have been taught to use “person-first” language in which you identify the person before their disability (i.e., person with autism, person who uses a wheelchair, individual with cerebral palsy). There is a shift happening towards “identity-first” language in which we claim our disability and center in the terms that we use (i.e, disabled, Deaf, autistic).

Why this shift?

Using identity-first language makes disability a marker of pride. It’s a little bit “in your face,” but that’s the point. Person-first language potentially diminishes a person’s disability identity by adding it on last. Activists from the disabled community have been pushing for identity-first language, some with a social media campaign called #SayTheWord (the word they want you to say is “disabled”).

And, there’s more . . .

. . . shying away from the actual word “disability” is a form of cultural erasure, because it suggests that people with disabilities shouldn’t identify with their disability or form community with others who have shared experiences. Instead, if the larger population embraces the word disability, it sends a message of acceptance and acknowledgement of disability as identity. A disability is something that shapes our lives, and it’s something to be proud of, not ashamed of.

Personally, I think she puts the emphasis in the right place. It’s the culture that needs to change, not the words. (And, even if we’re successful at changing the words we use, the culture will eventually change the meaning of those words.)

However, her message is not a rant against person-first. In fact, she says both should be accepted.

One thought on “Person-first or identity-first?

Comments are closed.