Some of you may know that I (Katie) have a son with autism. Did you notice how I said that? I never describe Alex as my autistic son, I say” he has autism”. It’s a small semantic difference that means a lot. I’m so grateful that another Mom shared this important distinction with me early on in our journey. The advice applies to all disabilities – it’s the person first, not the disability.
It makes sense when you think about it. You would never describe someone as “cancerous”, you would say they have cancer. Cancer is not how you define the person. If you had a permanent bruise on your shoulder, would you always want to be called “the bruised lady”? In that same regard, you wouldn’t want to say “the blind man”, you would say “a man who is blind”. He is a man first, and then if it is pertinent to the conversation, he is a man who happens to be blind. It takes a little longer to write or say, but it shows that the person truly comes first.
It’s a small thing that makes a big difference. It’s why you will never hear me say that Alex is autistic. It is not the defining adjective for him. He is an amazing, sweet, kind, loving, interesting, and wonderful person. He also deals with the challenges that come with having autism.
Here are a few wonderful web resources on this topic:
- Describing people with disabilities from the Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities
- Person first language from American Speech-Language-Hearing Association
- The More You Know – Disability Awareness
Using person first language promotes respect and dignity. People First Language is about what a person HAS, not what a person IS.