People First Language

Is your child a “disabled baby” or a “baby with a disability”? Is the toddler you met at playgroup a “Down syndrome girl” or a “girl with Down syndrome”?

How we talk about our children can make a difference in how we fell about them, how other people view them, and eventually how our children see themselves. Using “People First Language” means that one puts the disability after the other descriptions of our children, so that we give priority to their personalities and other important information about our children, not their disabilities.

A child’s special needs are only part of who he is, along with his age, sex, hair color, and his personality traits. As parents, we know that a child’s disabilities do no make up the whole. People First Language helps people understand that your child is more than a disabled person; she is an individual who happens to have disabilities in some ways. People First Language also helps being home what we as parents know so well: our children have more in common with other children than they have differences.

There’s a time and place for everything, and I don’t try to educate everyone I meet about People First Language. I recently talked with another mother at the community preschool my son attends, and she referred to “Down’s children” in a sentence that was otherwise full of inclusive, positive statements. I didn’t pick that battle because I realized that it’s more important to help people understand the big picture issues and was happy to learn she’s heading in the right direction. However, I reminded (o.k., nagged) my sister until she changed her language, because I talk with her often and want her to understand-and help others understand-the issues involved better than the average person.

People First Language involves saying “people with disabilities” instead of “the handicapped”, and “she uses a wheelchair”, instead of “she’s wheelchair bound”. Many people find it more sensitive to refer to “children with typical development” instead of “normal children” because our children are also “normal” and terrific.

-Emily Dreyfus

“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between the lightning and the lightning bug.”-Mark Twain