Saturday, February 22, 2014


I often wonder if we create a sort of an unsolvable Rubic's Cube with some of the discussions we have at times.  What I mean is that we engage in conversations where there isn't necessarily a right or wrong answer.  We attempt to solve a problem that is, well, unsolvable.

People First Language seems to be one such puzzle!

Oh, I have written before on this conundrum.  Back in 2009, I discussed semantics in Don't Major in the Minors.  I even discussed the challenge last year during the final week of Lent in Who Do You Say That I Am?.

But the circular conversation persists, and I suppose I had better resign myself to the fact that it will always be a part of the national dialog when it comes to diff-abilities.

Because people are unique individuals and want to be treated as such.   

This week, in both a private leadership group and on the blogosphere, the topic has popped up again.  One post that dates back to 2012 maintains Person-first language doesn't put people first, it makes them invisible. Reading the author's adult point of view is fascinating.  He has the closely held belief that separating him from his autism is akin to removing part of his identity.  In his estimation, this type of language stems from a faulty mindset.  The second post, recently written by a mother, proclaims My Son's Disability Defines Him (and why I'm okay with that).  Beautifully crafted, the author describes how her son's diagnosis, and all that comes with it, is woven into the fabric of his life.

"I want him to say disability and hear dignity." she envisions.

Yes, YES!

Except then we also have people like my son, who will slug you if you call him a "hemophiliac".  (Which is NOT very hemo-friendly behavior, I might add.)  All joking aside, he has told me that, "When people call me that, I feel like I am being put in a demeaning classification of people that have the most disgusting disease ever.  I want people to see me, not my disease first.  I have hemophilia -- It doesn't have me!  People using that term make me feel bad about myself."

My position would be that ALL of these individuals need to be heard. 

So often, we try to cluster people in categories.  I would maintain that when it comes to using proper language, those clusters don't work.  We need to get to know people for who they are and respectfully ask them what their language preference might be.

And so, this week's award goes to PEOPLE FIRST LANGUAGE.

 Are you SERIOUS?!

One size does NOT fit all, so we would do well NOT to judge others or think less of anyone because of their linguistic preferences.  Instead, invest in the beauty of personal relationship with people of every sort.

Fred and Ginger said it well back in this 1937 classic... 


  1. Great post, Barb! Relationship is where it's at! THAT'S the bottom line!

  2. I'm glad Twitter directed me to your post today. When I wrote my pos "My son's disability defines him" I was actually thinking about this in much the same way you are. While some feel that disability is in no way defining, I believe that for my son it is a defining characteristic and I think that's okay. I would prefer someone say my son "has spina bifida" than to hear them say he "happens to have spina bifida" because it seems too distancing. Still, like your son, I would most certainly cringe if someone said my son was "a spina bifidian" (<--- ha, pretty sure that's not a word, thank heaven!). Anyway, just want to say thanks for the shout out and yes-yes-yes to hearing all individuals and allowing folks to choose how and with what language they define themselves.