What is People First Language?

People First Language refers to the language our society uses to refer to people with disabilities. People First Language places emphasis where it should be, on the person and not the disability. People with disabilities, moreover our students with disabilities, are- first and foremost- people, who have individual abilities, likes, dislikes and needs. Their contributions, no matter how small or great, enrich our schools and classrooms. As a result, we must always be mindful to respect them as individuals and not think of them as their disability and model that mindset for them and students without disabilities.

Look at this example.

People First Language says:                                                Instead of:

People with disabilities are great.                                        Disabled people are great.

It’s a small difference that makes a world of difference.  We must remember the word, disability, is an adjective that describes a medical diagnosis. People First Language humbly puts the person before the disability. Most of us have been guilty of putting the emphasis on the disability instead of the person.

Why is People First Language Important?

“Our words and the meanings we attach to them create attitudes, drive social policies and laws, influence our feelings and decisions, and affect people’s daily lives and more. How we use them makes a difference. People First Language puts the person before the disability, and describes what a person has, not who a person is. Using a diagnosis as a defining characteristic reflects prejudice, and also robs the person of the opportunity to define him/herself.”

As an individual who happens to be Dyslexic and a special education teacher, if my students don’t learn anything else I want them to know that the label doesn’t define them. My personal quest is to not only teach them, but help them understand, “A learning disability is what we have, it’s not who we are.”

Why Do We Need a Lesson in People First Language Anyway?

That’s simple, because it rarely crosses our minds. I recently read an article titled, “Can special education students keep up with the Common Core?” It didn’t dawn on me until I had finished the article and read several comments until I got to the following comment:

“Please do not use the phrase “special education students.”  This term is disrespectful. In 1990, the IDEA stated we should use person-first language such as students with disabilities or students with special needs. Thanks!”

OUCH! How could I, of all people, have over looked that? In fact, I learned about that in college and have, for years, been very conscious of using People First Language verbally and in the written language. So, if I needed to revisit the importance of People First Language, then I am sure a few of my fellow educators may need to as well.

If you are just a little bit curious to see how well you are at using  Language with the emphasis on the person, checkout Examples of People First Language  or Disability is Natural for lots of great information on the topic of People First Language.

“Teachers who care, share,” so share with us any other great examples of People Frist Language you use.


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