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Different terms can sound so similar but can actually be quite different. If you are a disabled person or are you just someone with a disability? Are you an autistic person or just someone who has autism. Perception perhaps. But despite the disability, they still have feelings, still hear you and still deserve respect.
For most of this century, the language such as ‘disabled person’ was widely used but today we have seen a different perception in the way we view these people. The preferred term is ‘a person with a disability’ being used instead. The new term is called ‘person-first language’ and replacing the old style of ‘identity-first language’.
Basically, with person-first language, the person comes before the disability, therefore being referred to as ‘person with a disability’. While most organisations only use person-first language, some people with a disability still prefer to use identity-first language themselves. What’s the difference?
In a sentence, it’s about seeing them as a person, not seeing their disability.
If you use disability as a descriptor (‘deaf person’, ‘autistic person’), it places emphasis on the disability. However, many people feel that having a disability doesn’t define or describe them in any way. They are just like everyone else, they just happen to have a disability. Put into another context, do you introduce someone as ‘gay Garry’? or this is my old-mother? People with disabilities are parents, partners, siblings, friends and neighbours too. But the disability is not the sole factor that defines a person, it is just part of them.
Most people with a disability would rather be referred to as ‘the girl with amazing artist qualities that just happens to have a disability’. Much nicer language than ‘the disabled girl that does amazing art’.
Some people think that language such as ‘the person with autism’ or ‘the person with a disability’ turns the disability into something negative.
Saying ‘person with autism’ suggests that autism is something bad – so bad that is isn’t even consistent with being a person. Nobody objects to using adjectives to refer to characteristics of a person that are considered positive or neutral. This point of view is supported by autism-rights activist Jim Sinclair.
When the term ‘person with a disability’ is mentioned, it implies that the disability can (or should) be separated from the person. Many people with a disability would reject that thought and their disability cannot be separated from their identity, nor do they want it to be.
In Australia, the person-first language is the most widely accepted approach and preferred option. But even better, just like anyone else, a person with a disability would still like to be referred to as their name, as that who they really are. Conversations like “please meet Mary, she is a fantastic artist” and that is all. Sure she will still have the disability, but that doesn’t have to define her.
Here’s a list of some common words or phrases and the more acceptable alternatives: click here