At The Valley Vanguard, we’ve been doing some workshops on AP style and common mistakes we make.
One of these was the use of “person-first language.” This means instead of saying that someone is disabled, they are a “person with a disability.” Using person-first language would mean referring to myself as a “person with type 1 diabetes” instead of just a type 1 diabetic.
I personally dislike person-first language for many reasons. The first is that it feels condescending and like meaningless pandering. Most peoples’ reasoning for using person-first language is that they believe it puts the person before their disability. I have a problem with this.
First off, it feels like a euphemism. It implies that outright saying their disability or health condition is something to be ashamed of and thus leads to more stigma. This is also why I dislike the term “differently abled.”
It’s also just clunky language and unnecessarily wordy. There are only a few circumstances where person-first language has flowed as naturally as identity first.
You can say someone is epileptic instead of saying they are a person with epilepsy, but there isn’t an identity first word for some conditions, like endometriosis, for example.
No amount of calling someone a “person with a disability” will change discrimination against them or exploitation by the health care system.
People are going to make assumptions and potentially discriminate against me no matter how hard I try to hide my health issues or conform to the standards someone with functioning organs has, so I might as well be upfront and blunt with my needs.
It’s kind of liberating to become an advocate for myself and refuse to let people treat my chronic illness as something taboo or something that makes me lesser.
Most people also prefer identity first language, but no one cares enough to listen to what disabled people say to know that.
Instead, people will talk over them and insist they know what’s best regarding something they don’t understand. If so-called “activists” and “allies” would read the blogs, editorials and social media accounts of disabled people, they would have a better understanding.
If you want to truly be a good disability activist and ally, listen to what disabled people prefer. Do more things to fight discrimination besides just pat yourself on the back for using “woke” or “politically correct” language.
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