Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Disability-first Language

Warning: this post contains strong opinions. It's not mean, but it's spunky. Are you ready?


I think people-first language is stupid. It takes the pride out of our disabilities. Like we have to hide them behind a bunch of 10 point politically correct vocabulary words in order to make ourselves valid.  
"You're a person with autism!"

No. I'm an autistic person. Emphasis on the autistic. Try calling a Black person a "person with Blackness" and see how that flies (I'll give you a hint: it won't.)

I don't want to feel like I have to make my disability an appendage of myself, like it's something I can tack on as an afterthought. It's a syndrome, not a scarf. I don't just "have" autism like I have an obese Siamese cat. Yes, I have autism, but it's more than that. Being a "person with autism" isn't like being an autistic person. As a person with autism, I'm not acknowledging that autism makes me who I am. That my brain is an autism sundae, all wrapped up in autism with autism on top. A "person with autism" has forgotten that you can take the autistic out of the sentence, but you can't take the autism out of the person. As an autistic person, I'm putting it out there right away. "Why yes, I am autistic, thank you." As an autistic person, I wear my autistic brain like a mushy grey badge of honor. I'm proud of that autistic blob of nerves, and I refuse to smother it under piles of political correctness.

Let's not make this all about autism, now. Autistic culture has exploded in the last decade or so, and at this point we're pretty much crawling out of the woodwork. Aspies are cropping up on television shows everywhere. Autism is now a buzz word. But we're not the only subculture within the disability community. You can probably guess what's next: Deaf Culture. Deaf Pride is one of the largest and strongest movements in the disability community. And within that movement, people-first language has for years been rejected and replaced with Deaf-first language. Deaf, when used in a Deaf Pride context, is spelled with a capital D. In ASL, this is termed "big D deaf." Because being Deaf is an indicator of one's culture and a source of pride, a Deaf person who uses the big D deaf label will be averse to the use of people-first language to describe them. (disclaimer - not all deaf people are involved in Deaf Culture, and so they don't all feel this way. This only applies to Deaf people with Pride.) Regardless of your disability, rejecting people-first language and using disability-first language can be a source of pride and enhance the sense of community experienced by those involved in disability culture.

In closing: I'm not just a pale, sorry vagabond carrying my disability wrapped in a kerchief on a stick. I'm a disabled superhero, with the power to speak out (and to be a weirdo.) Autism is my red cape- I wouldn't be me without it. Up, up and Autistic!



  1. Kick-ass, girl! You rock!! I'll be verrry proud to serve you in Heaven, miss gorgeous. Meet me Upstairs for eternity. God bless you.

  2. This was such a compelling and well-written post! I have been asserting this for years, and mostly just get dismissed. But everything you said is what I have raised my son to believe and things I've said on newsgroups and LJ and Facebook before, although surely not as powerfully. Love this!

    I'm not :unknown", btw, I just can't get this interface to display my name. :-)

  3. Kitt: I definitely see your point, and my many Deaf friends are fully aboard. However, I don't want to call my friend with cancer - cancerous, And I am a person first! My autism has changed over the years, it has changed how I experience life, but my life has also changed how I experience my autism. And how other people experience me with my autism. I am very proud to tell people I have autism, and to occasionally rescue a kid, from a parent like mine who just isn't getting that I can't change HOW I FEEL even if YOU don't understand that not all brains work the same. But I have changed how I cope with my feelings and how I express them to other "people." Having Autism does not define me, anymore than having depression, red hair, brown eyes, myopia, a left hip replacement, dyslexia, hypersomnia, or asthma. These are all things I have that impact my experience here as a Human Being. I don't want to have to wave these things like a banner, and I don't want to have to excuse myself because of them. I'm not less than nor more than anyone else because these conditions are part of my human experience. A difference is just a difference, and we all have differences. That is the point of people first language. That is really the only one thing that we we have in common with every other human on the planet - we are people. I am a person FIRST!

  4. Right on! I'm just not sure where I was supposed to be offended by strong language though.