People First Language

Spoken words are so powerful and can leave someone with a long-lasting impression. Both what you say and what is left unsaid can forever leave a mark on a person or their loved ones. Words can be tricky when you are around someone with a disability, but they don’t have to be! Let’s strive to make a positive impact when working with someone with a disability. Here are some simple tips that you can implement while working with them. 

Put the person before the disability. The way that you speak to them can change their views about themselves. Rather than focusing on their disability, focus on who they are as a person. Describe who the person is not what they have. We all have things that are different about us but we don’t need those to be the focus. Instead of saying “the Autistic boy” one could word this as “the boy with Autism”. If there is not a need to point out their disability, this phrase could even be restated as “the boy with long, brown hair”

Every person is unique. Just because someone has a certain disability does not mean that they have the same needs, likes and dislikes, or ways of communicating as others with the same disability. Get to know them to figure out what they are really like. Maybe they do have certain similarities, but they deserve to showcase their unique personality. 

Don’t judge a book by its cover. No one wants limitations placed on them. You never know what someone is capable of based on what they look like. Let them show you (and even surprise you) with what they can do. If they can do things on their own, give them the freedom to do their own tasks unless they ask for assistance. 

Respect them as a person. Remember, we are all people. Never speak down to someone with a disability, treat them as your equal. Talk to them as you would anyone else that is their age. If they are an adult, then they deserve to be treated as one. If you are asking them if they need assistance, help, or someone around, respect their answers unless instructed otherwise. 

In the end, remember that we are all human. You are bound to make a mistake in something that you say, we all have! When that happens, apologize and remember it for next time. If you are ever in doubt, just remember the golden rule and treat people the way (or better!) that you want to be treated.  

Emma Benner

Emma Benner

Social Media Intern

Emma is a student-athlete at Purdue University majoring in Kinesiology and on the cross country and track and field teams. She has been involved in the special needs community for many years as a coach with Special Olympics Minnesota, and  as a personal care assistant/respite sitter. She has worked in media, marketing, and journalism with various organizations. When Emma has some free time, she enjoys riding horses (she grew up doing barrel racing), baking doughnuts and cake pops (yum!), pursuing her new art interest (wood burning, painting, or drawing), or going for a long fun in sunny weather (her favorite!).