Sunday, October 3, 2010

People first language

A few weeks ago the physician overseeing Charlotte's CT scan asked me if Charlotte was a "Downs baby." I simply replied, "Yes, she has Down syndrome." However, inside I was fuming and had to stop myself from educating this doctor about people first language.

As part of my undergraduate program I had to take a class aimed at teaching those going into regular education about students with disabilities. I had a wonderful teacher who had one goal; to make sure each of us walked away understanding and using people first language.

So, what is people first language? In a nutshell, it is putting the person before the disability when you speak. For example, instead of "autistic boy" you would say "a boy with autism." Instead of "disabled person" you would say "person with a disability."

What is the purpose of this? To recognize the person before the disability. To show that the disability is just a portion of who they are, not all off them. Ten years ago, sitting in that college class, I never knew that something would be so personal to me. After having Charlotte, I feel even more strongly about this. It is something very, very simple that everyone can do to show respect to those with disabilties. I know that this world today is a tad obsessed with having to be politically correct and some may think I am being overly sensitive. However, this is something so SIMPLE that shows so much respect, what would be a reason not to use people first language?

When I look at Charlotte, I don't see Down syndrome. I see a little girl that smiles with her whole face (I love the way her eyes crinkle when she smiles!) and has the same big eyes as her big sister. She is not a Downs baby, she is a baby who has Down syndrome.

And, if you don't believe me about the eyes, check out these comparison pics of my girls:

Katherine, 3 months

Charlotte, 3 months


  1. In my opinion there is no such thing as a DISability only different ability. In recent years I have become a lot more thoughtful about how and what I say. It is all about respect!! Paul

  2. way to go Emily - you couldn't have said it better!

  3. Rebecca Kleefish (lutinent governor of wisconsin) gave the commencement speech at WCTC yesterday and used the phrase "graduation for disabled people." I just tweeted her and directed her to your blog to educate herself on People First Language. Thanks for this great post so that people can continue to educate themselves!


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