Or Why I Hate Person-First Language
What Is Identity-First Language? Person-First Language?
What is identity-first language? Well, you use it all the time when you refer to yourself as an American woman, man, person, etc. Or when you call yourself a Black parent. But when I’m discussing identity-first language, I’m using it as a counterpoint to person-first language, which is almost always used strictly in the disability community. When someone uses the phrase “a person with a disability” or a “person with Autism” they’re using person-first language. Many disability studies courses and non-Disabled disability advocates think everyone should use person-first language when discussing disability.
So…Why do I prefer identity-first language?
1. Person-first language separates me from my identity
When you use person-first language, you are literally separating me from my identity, deliberately distancing me from an integral aspect to who I am. It feels like someone is dissecting me.
2. Person-first language is hypocritical
Using person-first language for Disabled people is incredibly hypocritical because it is almost always used solely for Disabled people.
People insist on calling me a person with a disability but call me a white pansexual single American woman. If you insist on using person-first language, call me a person with whiteness, with pansexuality, with singleness, with American heritage.
3. Preference matters
Too often, someone completely ignores what I wish to be called because they’ve learned somewhere that all Disabled people want to be referred to as a “person with a disability.” They think they’re being a good “ally” (another term I object to) but in reality they’re refusing to place my real needs above what they’ve learned in their Ivory Tower or from some other Disabled person with a different lived reality from my own.
4. Person-first language & respect
There’s this idea that we’re given more respect if we separate our disability or disabilities from our personhood, that the more distance we place between ourselves and our disability, the more respect we’re given. This very idea is rooted in ableism.
Also important to note is that whether I’m called a Disabled person or a person with a disability, I am treated with the same level of disrespect.
5. Ability to be acknowledged as a “person first”
I think it’s disingenuous for people to refer to me as a person with a disability, to refer to me as a person first, when they don’t actually consider me a person first. This is even more of an issue when it comes to my Autism. People don’t separate me from my Autism so to pretend to in order to be politically correct or to give the appearance of acknowledging my personhood is the height of insincerity.
I’m sure that some Disabled people are considered “people first” but historically we haven’t been considered people first nor do our laws/ordinances reflect this thinking. There’s a city ordinance still in effect in regards to Disabled people that is listed under cats and dogs. When people continue to separate our disabilities from our personhood, they aren’t thinking about how our disabilities impact our personhood and how its viewed by others.
6. Needed reminder of humanity?
My friend Eb on Twitter worded it best, people shouldn’t need to use person-first language in order to be reminded that we’re human beings deserving of respect and rights and that we also have other identities.
7. Accommodations as an afterthought?
I think that when people insist on saying “but you’re a person first!” and that people don’t acknowledge my disability first, that can lead to accommodations being an afterthought. When folks continue to separate my disabilities from my personhood, they aren’t thinking about what accommodations I need because they’re too busy trying to NOT think about my disabilities.
8. Pride in identity-first language
Many Disabled people are wary of claiming the label of Disabled due to stigma and ableism. It takes us months or even years to come to terms with our reality so when we finally do claim it, let us claim it how we see fit (if that means you prefer person-first language, that’s fine with me)!
I find power in being able to say that I am a Disabled person, that I am an Autistic person! No tiptoeing around, no carefully worded phrase that gently leads you to the conclusion that I am, in fact, one of those people. It’s immediately out there and in your face, much like some of my symptoms.
As always, I welcome respectful discussion and questions and if you found this post educational or interesting, I hope you’ll take the time to comment and share it on social media!
That’s all for now!