What is “People First Language”?

What is “People First Language”? The term came about primarily to recognize the fact that people with disabilities are first and foremost people, and should not be described by their disability alone. People First Language (PFL) tells us what a person HAS, not what a person IS. Keep in mind that one out of every 5 people has a disability of some kind and that these people are our friends, neighbors, co-workers, moms, dads, husbands, wives, kids and more. This largest minority group is the only one which any person can become part of, at any time! Some join at birth-others in the split second of an accident, through illness, or during the aging process. If it happens to you, how would you like to be described? Think of yourself, are you “myopic” or do you wear glasses? Are you “cancerous” or do you have cancer? Are you “freckled” or do you have freckles?

You may still hear people saying things like “He’s a cripple” or “She’s an epileptic” and even statements such as “He is wheelchair bound” or “She suffers from cerebral palsy”. All these statements are archaic. PFL strives to eliminate stereotypes, focus on people’s abilities, and promote dignity and respect. PFL avoids negative words that imply tragedy, such as “afflicted with”, “suffers from”, “victim of”, etc.

What should you say? Below are some examples:

  • Instead of “He’s an epileptic” you can say “He has epilepsy” or “He has a seizure disorder”
  • Instead of “She had a Down’s baby” you can say “Her baby has Down Syndrome”
  • Instead of “He’s confined to a wheelchair” you can say “He uses a wheelchair for mobility”
  • Instead of “The blind lady” you can say “The lady with the visual impairment”
  • Instead of “He’s an autistic” you can say “He has autism”
  • Instead of “She’s afflicted with dwarfism” you can say “She is of short stature”

Always remember the person comes first!

The State of Pennsylvania has an Executive Order for People First Language that was signed back in 1992 by Governor Robert P. Casey.