Addressing Disabilities

Emily Ladau expands the mind and our language in seeing different perspective on how to discuss disabilities. I have an impassioned quest to widen my awareness in general but recently it ignited me into action after being corrected among a group of colleagues.

Being corrected by others who do not share the same perspective or condition is troublesome. Well-intentioned people rarely see their words as having consequences. Even if it does come from an educated perspective it does not make the lesson sting any less. When exposure occurs it can leave us feeling raw. I felt that way when I was being “corrected” by an abled individual about the possible pit-falls of not using person-first language (PFL).

disabilities1My first reaction included horror that I might have accidentally offended or labeled a client. Accusing me of ignorance about my own disability shocked me to the core. My second reaction was that of an attack to my identity and simultaneously feeling shamed. I felt ashamed for being disabled and that experience was all too familiar. Like Emily Ladau she felt exactly the same when her professor taught her that saying a “disabled person” was promoting a stigma.

PFL started from people who wanted to fight back against societies terrible assumptions, ideas, thoughts, and behavior that promote ideas like burdensome, less than, not good enough, and various other dehumanizing experiences. PFL users value advocacy to stop subjugation disabilities.  An example of PFL is to label myself as a woman who cannot walk. In the circles/users of PFL this is showing the person respect. It made using terms such as disabled woman as an insult.

When the confrontation occurred, I responded by explaining how I did not see calling myself as a disabled woman as cruel rather it is part of my identity. I felt my point met with resistance and my reactivity shut-down my brain’s ability to communicate. A friend of mine understood where I was coming from and gifted me the term identity-first language (IFL). According to Ladau IFL is often preferred by countless people within the disability community. However, some abled bodies tend to see IFdisabilities2L with confusion or even with hostility. The reason for this it goes against the core belief of PFL to not use the term disabled person due to their belief that this term is cruel.

Like Ladau I agree that PFL intentionally separates a person from their disability. PFL’s intention is to acknowledging the personhood but it’s unintentional consequences it implies that disability or disabled are inherently negative and/or derogatory. When we use separating language it can create a feeling of otherness. PFL separates the person from their disability, otherwise their personhood isn’t whole.  Yet we do not separate other characteristics from the person such as we do not say a person who is Caucasian. Being Caucasian isn’t automatically viewed as offensive rather it is a simple fact. Being wheelchair bound is a truth of how I exist not a dirty word.

Here is a basic IFL truth: it is acceptable to use disabled person. IFL users believe that the terms disability and disabled speak to a person’s culture and identity. For an example when addressing the Autistic community using IFL promotes the idea that Autism is part of their identity (i.e. Autistic person).  IFS usage within the Deaf community is an understanding there are two types of identity. One is distinguish as using a lower case “d” (referring to a physical state of being) and others capitalize Wheelchair_1605the “D” (indicates culture and identity.)   The example here would look like this d/Deaf person. Another principle is to never apply IFL to medical definition such as saying Down syndrome person is disrespectful. This is not referring to someone by his or her culture or identity but rather via his or her diagnosis. Identifying one by their diagnosis is both incorrect and hurtful. Finally, foundation is not lumping mobility equipment with a person by saying wheelchair person. Instead mindfulness and awareness encourages saying wheelchair user.

IFL is another way to help address disabilities. The golden rule is to stand with cognizance that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all model. Pause before deciding how to label others and let the person decide for himself or herself. I whole hearty agree with Ladau that the particulars of language can never be bigger than the true injustices or victories that one experiences when belonging to the disability community.


Source: Emily Ladau. Why Person-First Language Doesn’t Always Put the Person First.