People-First Language

Language is a powerful thing. The words that we choose to use in everyday life convey attitudes and spread those attitudes to everyone we encounter. While labeling people with derogatory terms reinforces negative preconceptions, choosing to use positive words can have a positive influence on the whole of society. Make a conscious effort to use People-First Language words and help eliminate prejudices.

Two actors who use wheelchairs and two who do not take part in a skit.

Two actors who use wheelchairs and two who do not take part in a skit.

Members of That Uppity Theatre Company's The DisAbility Project act out a skit. The DisAbility Project aims to educate society about disabilities and people with disabilities to change negative attitudes and misconceptions to ones of positivity and understanding.

Courtesy of That Uppity Theatre Company

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People-First Language is about making respectful word choices and remembering to always put the person before his or her disability. No one wants to be identified by only one characteristic. Therefore, use language that indicates that a disability is a part of the person's life, but does not define the person.

Keep in mind that the biggest part of People-First Language is to describe what a person HAS, not what they ARE.

Say This Instead of This
Person with a disability Cripple, disabled person, invalid, handicapped, victim
Disability Handicap
Person who has _______, Afflicted with, suffers from
Person who uses a wheelchair or crutches; a wheelchair user; walks with crutches Confined/restricted to a wheelchair; wheelchair bound
Person who has a mental or developmental disability Retarded, moron, imbecile, idiot, slow, stupid
Person with a cognitive disability Mentally retarded
Person who has a disability, has a condition of (spina bifida, etc.), or person born (without legs), etc. Defective, deformed
Person who had a spinal cord injury, polio, a stroke, etc. or a person who has multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, arthritis, etc. Victim
Person who is deaf/hard of hearing Deaf, deaf and dumb, deaf-mute, hearing-impaired
Person with autism Autistic
Person who has been disabled since birth/who has a congenital disability Birth defect
Person who receives special education services In special education
Accessible parking Handicap parking or disabled parking
Person of short stature Dwarf or midget
People living with HIV HIV/AIDS patient or victim
Person with a mental health condition Emotionally disturbed or mentally ill
Person who communicates with eyes/device/etc. Non-verbal

Sources: Words with Dignity by Paraquad, Disability Etiquette from Paraquad

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In their own words

Those with disabilities share their personal stories.

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Opening more
than doors

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Missouri History Museum exhibition

Americans with Disabilities Act: 20 Years Later.
June 26, 2010
to Jan 8, 2012

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