The Language of People

“Until we learn to appreciate the power of language and the importance of using it responsibly, we will continue to produce negative social consequences for those victimised by dangerous language habits.”

Author: Professor J. Dan Rothwell, Telling It Like It Isn’t: Language Misuse and Malpractice/What We Can Do About It

People First Language was first introduced to me by one inspirational TAFE teacher. I had never heard of this concept before I began my studies, but as I discovered, this was the language the industry and general public were largely needing more awareness around.

Supporting a young man in a fruit shop to engage with customers packing their groceries, I will never forget the words that came out of one lady’s mouth as she approached us on check out. “There was a woman in my street who gave birth to a Downs baby, he’s an adult now”…she said.

Really?? I looked at the young man to gauge his response, as I was silently fuming. The young man kept his head down and continued packing the lady’s’ groceries, avoiding eye contact.

Due to the age of the customer, I felt like this was more of a reminder of how far we have actually come in the ways people with disability are viewed in the community in 2019.  Yes, there are still people around using outdated language, parents of PWD and Support Workers are guilty of this too, but overall I believe we have become more inclusive in many aspects.

For those of you that are unfamiliar with the term ‘People First Language’ it is quite simply that – considering the person before their race, gender, or abilities. Ruling out any prejudice or assumptions. Allowing the person not to be defined or labelled in society, demonstrating good manners, and the change we need for the way in which we see a person with disability and, more importantly, how they see themselves.

I’ll give you an example: “Zac the young man that uses a wheelchair for mobility” vs “Zac in the wheelchair”, or “Katie uses an iPad to communicate” vs ”Katie can’t talk” you get the gist. Person First. 

This is also true for explaining environmental measures. Reinforce respectful and accurate language. For instance, we once said the “handicapped space” instead we say “Accessible Parking”. In a similar context we could refer to the “accessible restroom” not the “disabled toilet”. It’s pretty easy, and it only takes a bit of practice to be a person first warrior!

I encourage you all to try this out in your day to day interactions.

The best resource I have come across that really educates on this topic of People First Language has come from a website called ‘Disability is Natural’ I have provided you with the link to this resource here:  

I would love to hear how you have included People First Language into your day to day life.


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