Posted on February 7, 2018
When addressing an individual with a disability one can use either person first language or identity first language. In Emily Ladau’s “Why Person-First Writing Doesn’t Always Put The Person First”, Ladau expresses in her writing that people with disabilities have a choice between using person first language and identity first language. Person first language was initially introduced to “fight back against stigma … In a society that perceived disability as dehumanizing” (Ladau para 3). She argues that person first language is not preferred by most disabled people because it implies that terms such as disabled and disability are negative words. By separating being human from having a disability, it removes the person’s identity and labels disability as a bad thing. Ladau believes that it is important to be prideful of one’s identity of being a disabled person. To add on, while reading Ladau’s article many people in the comment section said that using person first language “robs the individual of the right to self-identify”. One of the people who commented goes on to give an example in which her blind daughter tells her teacher she prefers to be called blind, yet her teacher still insists on using the term “visually impaired”. On the contrary, in Paula Fernandes, Nelson DeBarros, and Li Li’s research paper, “Stop saying ‘epileptic’”, they argue that person first terms such as “person with epilepsy” rather than identity first terms such as “epileptic person” should be used because when person first language is used it doesn’t create as much stigma towards people with epilepsy. The authors share that because “the term epilepsy has negative connotations” it “impairs the patient’s quality of life and reinforces the stigma”. So, by using person first language the terms will separate the negative meaning behind epilepsy from the person themselves. Ladau would argue that being epileptic is a part of the person’s identity which is why identity first language would be preferred by most people.
In the end, I believe that the definitions are important to how we think, talk, and write about disability because some disabled people might feel more comfortable using identity first language while others prefer person first identity. Like Emily Ladau says in her essay, “language is never ‘one-size-fits-all’”. Not all terms can apply to the same people. What people need to do is ask what others prefer to be called, similar to how people ask what pronouns you identify with. In my opinion, I believe that the terms “disabled” or “disabilities” should not have a negative connotation because there is nothing wrong with someone having a disability.