AHEAD: Association for Higher Education Access & Disability
Creating inclusive environments in education & employment for people with disabilities.

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Language and Disability

Like any other community, there are lots of different opinions on what language is best in the disabled community. In this article, we’ll discuss both person first and identity language and determine what the difference is. There isn’t a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answer, but it’s good to be aware of the conversation so you can make sure the students you support feel the most comfortable.

Identity-First Language

With identity first language the disability is placed before the person. So, using this language you would say ‘disabled person’ rather than ‘person with a disability’. Many disabled people prefer this language as they see their disability as an important part of their identity in the same way someone might refer to their nationality, sexual orientation or religion. For people who prefer identity-first language they don’t consider their disability to be something separate from them.

Some examples of identity-first language:

  • Autistic person
  • Wheelchair user
  • Disabled students

Person-First Language

Person first language places the person before the disability or diagnosis they have. So, instead of ‘disabled person’ you would say ‘person with a disability’. A lot of people with disabilities might feel prefer this language as they feel as those their disability or diagnosis is just a part of who they are or something that is completely separate from them as a person. For people who prefer person-first language, they prefer for their disability to be seen as separate from their identity as a person.

Some examples of person-first language:

  • A person with diabetes
  • A person with chronic illness
  • Students who have disabilities

If you aren’t sure which language to use for disability, using person first language is usually a good option to go with – however, be respectful of how a person identifies themselves and use identity first language if a person uses it themselves.

 

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