Disabled

The label “disabled” means so much to me. It means I have community. It means I have rights. It means I can be proud. It means I can affirm myself in the face of ableists. It means I can be myself and so much more. #WhenICallMyselfDisabled

TheDisabilityEnthusiast on Twitter

“Disability” and “disabled” are indicators of culture and identity. Thus, “disabled person” is an accepted term.

Person-First Language Doesn’t Always Put the Person First

Disability’s no longer just a diagnosis; it’s a community.



Though person-first language is designed to promote respect, the concept is based on the idea that disability is something negative, something that you shouldn’t want to see. After all, no one tells me that I should call myself a person with femaleness or a person with Jewishness. I’m a Jewish woman. No one questions that. Yet when I dare to call myself a disabled person, it seems the whole world turns upside down. That’s because gender and religion are seen as neutral, if not positive, characteristics. The idea of separating the disability from the person stems from the idea that disability is something you should want to have separated from you, like a rotten tooth that needs to be pulled out.

Disability is only negative because society makes it so. For sure, there are negative aspects of my disability. (For the sake of simplicity, I’m focusing solely on my physical disability, which is both the most visible and the most integrated into my being.) Chronic pain and fatigue are no picnic. But for the most part, my disability is just another thread in the tapestry of my life. Pull it and the whole thing might unravel. Pull it and you might get an ugly hole where something beautiful once was.

Identity-first language is founded upon the idea of the social model of disability. In a nutshell, the social model says that though our impairments (our diagnostic, medical conditions) may limit us in some ways, it is the inaccessibility of society that actually disables us and renders us unable to function. The most basic example is wheelchair accessibility. If I am using my wheelchair and I can’t go to a restaurant because it doesn’t have a ramp, am I disabled by my cerebral palsy or am I disabled by the inaccessibility of the restaurant?

If that restaurant has a ramp, I am able to function perfectly within that situation. I am able to go in, sit at a table, order my food, eat it, and pay, just like everyone else. My wheelchair is not the problem. The inaccessibility of the restaurant is. Saying that I am disabled more accurately highlights the complex biosocial reality of disability. I am not merely a person existing with a label; I am constantly disabled and enabled by the interplay of my body and the environment.

Source: I am Disabled: On Identity-First Versus People-First Language

In the case of “People First” language for those with disabilities , what we have is not belief in linguistic emancipation, but a desire to “change something” in order to make educators feel responsive. Special education services haven’t changed much at all in the past 40 or 50 years – we use the same deficit model, we use the same types of assessment, we still flail around with school-generated solutions which foster dependence – but we can see we have “evolved,” no retards, no cripples, no morons, hey “we’ve changed since the bad old days.”

But disability remains a social identity. To work from Tom Shakespeare, it is the intersection of ability and the social structure. There is no such thing as a legitimate way to define “normal.” After all, if there were, the bizarre global minority of humans without black hair and brown eyes would be considered freaks. So, society defines certain people as outside of normal, and they do that with words.

For some groups, the hyphenation strategy is reached, be it “Scotch-Irish” or “African-American” or even “Student-Athlete,” but for others, where a real belief in pathology remains, we keep the “person with” structure. A student with the swine flu. A student with cancer. A student with a learning disability.” We don’t hyphenate any of those because we do not accept them as cultural identities, rather, we view them as illnesses.

So call me “dyslexic,” and call me “multi-attentioned” (or something), but stop pathologizing me. I don’t “have” these things, I “am” these things, because your society has made it that way.

I believe that we have to challenge accepted strategies and ideas. And whether you call it “Normalism” or “Disablism” we need to understand how narrative impacts cultural belief. If we convert horrid prejudices into pleasant sounding phrases, we diffuse those prejudices as an issue. So, since you treat me as if I am “retarded,” please don’t hide behind your nonsensical, “Student with Learning Disabilities.” That language might make you feel better, but it does nothing for me.

As long as you consider one way of doing things “normal,” you will demean me and treat me as less than fully human. What I was trying to say in this post –in a way which would provoke conversation – was that the very concept of “accommodation” is so very wrong, because it is based in disablism – the belief that I and others are not, and will never get to be, “normal,” unless “you” cure me by making me like you.

“People-first” language is meant to divide, it is meant to demean, it is meant to dehumanize, it is meant to pathologize, and yet, it is meant, as I said before, to make its users feel good. In that way it is ultimately destructive because it covers up the crimes.

Only when people get to choose their own labels will we get anywhere toward building an equitable culture.

Source: Using “Correct Language” And “People First” by Ira David Socol — Bowllan’s Blog

When you use person-first language, you are literally separating me from my identity, deliberately distancing me from an integral aspect to who I am. It feels like someone is dissecting me.

There’s this idea that we’re given more respect if we separate our disability or disabilities  from our personhood, that the more distance we place between ourselves and our disability, the more respect we’re given. This very idea is rooted in ableism.

Also important to note is that whether I’m called a Disabled person or a person with a disability, I am treated with the same level of disrespect.

When people continue to separate our disabilities from our personhood, they aren’t thinking about how our disabilities impact our personhood and how its viewed by others.

My friend Eb on Twitter worded it best, people shouldn’t need to use person-first language in order to be reminded that we’re human beings deserving of respect and rights and that we also have other identities.

I think that when people insist on saying “but you’re a person first!” and that people don’t acknowledge my disability first, that can lead to accommodations being an afterthought. When folks continue to separate my disabilities from my personhood, they aren’t thinking about what accommodations I need because they’re too busy trying to NOT think about my disabilities.

Source: 8 Reasons I Prefer Identity-First Language | Journey of IsaJennie

Person-first language is a form of hypocrisy. Its strongest advocates are non-disabled parents and professionals, very well-meaning people who love their friends and family members and students deeply and who want to do right by them by treating them as human beings. But if a fairly large number of us to whom this type of language refers find it objectionable, why are we told “Well I respect your opinion, but I think person-first language is more respectful.”

Why is it culturally appropriate and typical to accept race, religion, and nationality as markers of identity that ought to be designated with proper adjectives that (in English) precede the noun “individual” or “person” and not those that fall under the category that we call “ability?” Is it a reflection of a secret fear of the non-disabled of people who are not like them, or is it a reflection of the inhibiting fear of offending one of us? As most of us prefer to identify with proper-adjective language (disabled or Autistic), using this language is highly unlike to offend. Asking me, “So you have autism?” will almost always produce a wince and a cringe. An identity is not something that I have. It is who I am.

Source: Autistic Hoya: Identity and Hypocrisy: A Second Argument Against Person-First Language

After more than 20 years, when I was in my mid-40s, I left Independent Living Center work, partly because I wanted to explore disability culture and activism in other ways, especially online. One of the first things I found was that in the 2010s, the most interesting disabled people out there said that they were “disabled people,” or just “disabled,” and called it “identity first” language. This was in direct opposition to “person first.”

I was relieved. “Disabled” is much smoother to write and say than “person with a disability.”

The more I thought about it, “identity first” language started to again change how I thought about my disabilities. I stopped worrying about whether or not my disabilities “define” me, and started to embrace the fact that like it or not, I am part of a community, a shared identity. I’m disabled. And I do like it.

There are strong links between language about disability and thinking about disability, both in my own life and in the broader disability community. As tiresome as it can be to keep up with all the ways of thinking about disability language, it helps describe and shape who we are. Today, I find myself more comfortable with my disability identity than I have been since childhood, and much more empowered and proud.

Source: My Journey with Disability Language and Identity

If you are not Disabled and you are demanding the use of Person First Language (PFL), you are being ableist.

If you are Disabled and you are demanding that other Disabled people use Person First Language, you are being ableist.

If you are Disabled and want to use Person First Language when referring to yourself, I will respect that. I will also respect your right to demand that other people use Person First Language when referring to you.

But the Person First Language concept is ableist, and I can tell you why.

I do know the history of PFL. I also know that it was co-opted by non-disabled people who believe they are the authorities in what we should say and how we should identify ourselves. And that is the definition of ableism.

“If you “see the person not the disability” you’re only getting half the picture. Broaden your perspective. You might be surprised by everything you’ve missed. DISABLED. #‎SayTheWord

I want to debunk the notion that by using PFL society treats us better. If anything, it helps with the stigmatization of Disabled people. Instead of “seeing” us, society ignores us, we become “voiceless” and “invisible”. There: debunked. But there is more.

Do you, PFL proponent, really see me (only me) and not my disability?

If your answer is yes, you are being ableist because you ignore an important part of me. If you ignore my disability, how are you being an ally – as you claim – and how are you going to support me (and all Disabled people) when we demand to be heard?

If you insist that you will support us, and continue to use PFL, you are being ableist because I (and many others) already said that respecting us means listening to our preferences, instead of demanding that everyone uses a language that we reject. You make it all about you, your preferences, your choices. How is this respecting me (and all Disabled people)?

Acceptable to whom? This is the greatest example of PFL as ableist language. It is silencing. It says non-disabled people are the ones who know what is “better” for Disabled people. It says that we, Disabled people, are non-persons who cannot define ourselves. It makes the choices of non-disabled people for disabled people, “official”. PFL is not acceptable to me, and it is not acceptable to a lot of Disabled people. If you claim to be an ally, if you claim to use PFL because you respect us as people, you are NOT respecting us.

If you insist in using PFL because you don’t want to create “controversy” and defy the ableist society, if you use PFL because it is more comfortable to you, you shouldn’t claim to be an ally or advocate.

Source: “Person First Language and Ableism”

Identity-first language places the disability-related word first in a phrase. People who prefer identity-first language for themselves often argue that their disability is an important part of who they are, or that they wouldn’t be the same person without their disability. For some people, identity-first language is about a shared community, culture, and identity. Identity-first language is also about thinking about disability as a type of diversity instead of something to be ashamed of.

Some communities that use identity-first language are the Autistic, Deaf, and Blind communities. Other people might use “disabled person” instead of “person with disabilities.” Specific people might refer to themselves differently than most members of their communities, so it is a good idea to ask a person how they identify if you are writing about them or introducing them.

Source: Identity-First Language | Autism Acceptance Month

Identity first: as in disabled person (as opposed to person with a disability) was originally conceived to challenge the medical view of disability and replace it with a socio-cultural view. It wasn’t people’s diagnoses that were the problem, it was society. Society was the main cause of disablement. Saying you were a disabled person was originally not about identity at all it was an acknowledgement that society was the predominant cause of barriers for people with impairments (see my post here for a more in depth breakdown of the social model of disability). It was a way of calling attention to society’s physical and social barriers by tying oppression to the term disablement.

I sincerely doubt that most people who use identity first language are doing so to constantly be saying “hey you are oppressing me” or “hey I’m oppressed” (even though those two statements are likely true). They do it for the same reasons I do. It is a way to reject the idea that disability is a dirty word and to say that disability can be a part of a person’s identity without sacrificing their humanity. It’s a pushback against the stigma associated with disability (for more see this piece by Emily Ladau).

I however, choose to use IFL to directly challenge the bigotry inherent in assuming that I must be separated from my body to be considered human. I most definitely don’t do it to pigeon hole my identity into one label. I am far to complicated for that, just like everyone else.

I continue to believe that people should have the right to self-label and I endeavor to respect people’s personal preferences because we have been labeled by others far to often and it is time for us to take over the conversation about our own lives. I will not however accept the idea that my choice in sentence structure means that I am limiting my identity.

Source: Just Because I Use Identity First Language Doesn’t Mean I Let Disability Define Me | crippledscholar

Undoubtedly, scholarly writers’ use of person-first language is well intended. Perhaps, scholarly writers’differential application of person-first language to children with disabilities (and most frequent application to children with the most stigmatized disabilities) is also well intended (e.g. to effect positive social change, beginning with the individuals who are most stigmatized, or to protect specifically individuals who are the most stigmatized). However, the core principle of person-first language mandates that persons with disabilities be treated, linguistically, the same way as persons without disabilities. Therefore, rather than avoiding linguistic ‘bias against persons or groups’ on the basis of disability, as the American Medical Association directs scholarly authors to do (2007, p. 412), scholarly authors may actually be imparting such bias. As numerous disability scholars have argued, person-first language ‘may have overcorrected to the point of further stigmatizing disability’ (Andrews et al., 2013, p.237). By ‘call[ing] attention to a person as having some type of “marred identity”’ (Vaughan, 2009), person-first language may do ‘the exact opposite of what it purports to do’ by signaling ‘shame instead of true equality’ (Jernigan, 2009); it may ‘reinforce the notion that it is “bad” to have a disability’ (La Forge,1991, p. 51)

What can authors, editors, professional organizations, and scholarly journals do to truly reduce linguistic bias? First, all parties can become better educated about the core principle motivating person-first language: Everyone is a person first, not just children with disabilities (and definitely not just children with developmental disabilities). As the American Speech Hearing-Language Association suggests, ‘do the same thing for both positive and negative attributes.’ Refer to all persons, both those with and without disabilities, with person-firstlanguage. Conversely, authors, editors, professional organizations, and scholarly journals could begin to embrace identity-first language, both for persons with and without disabilities. Some disability scholars encourage the use of identity-first language from a disability rights, equality, and diversity framework. In fact, identifying with a disability is empirically demonstrated to be associated with improved well-being, self-esteem, and quality of life for persons with a wide range of disabilities, which is why identify-first language for persons with disabilities is often preferred. At the least, scholarly writing should endeavor to not use linguistic constructions that accentuate rather than attenuate the stigma associated with disabilities.

Source: The use of person-first language in scholarly writing may accentuate stigma

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Published by Ryan Boren

#ActuallyAutistic parent and retired tech worker. Equity literate education, respectfully connected parenting, passion-based learning, indie ed-tech, neurodiversity, social model of disability, design for real life, inclusion, open web, open source. he/they

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