Comprehensive Planning. Lifelong Solutions.

Using Person-First Language to Communicate With and About People with Special Needs

Print Friendly

By Jessica A. Hayes

About 54 million Americans, or 1 in every 5 people, report having a disability. Most Americans will experience a disability at some point, and for many, the disability will occur very suddenly and unexpectedly.  It could happen to anyone, at any time.  As special needs attorneys, we aim to give individuals with disabilities a voice, comprehensive planning, and access to benefits to which they are entitled.  We also strive to raise awareness and encourage understanding.

Individuals with disabilities have historically been marginalized and treated as if their disabilities defined them. Gone are the days that calling someone an “invalid,” “handicapped,” or “retarded” is acceptable.  In its place, we use person-first language to appropriately and respectfully describe and speak about individuals with disabilities.

Instead of referring to a person with disability, “person-first language” (also called “people-first language”) emphasizes the person first, not the disability.   It describes what a person has, but not who a person is.  When describing someone who has a disability, refer to him as “a person with ________,” or “a person who has __________________.”

For example:

Say This: Not This:
Person who is deaf Deaf person
Person who uses a wheelchair Wheelchair-bound/ handicapped
Person with an intellectual disability Retarded
Person with epilepsy Epileptic
Person with autism Autistic
Person with a learning disability Learning disabled
Student who receives special education services Special ed student

This is not political correctness; it is a demonstration of respect. Why does it matter?  Because the words we use affect how people see themselves and others, contribute to social norms, and ultimately influence changes in the law.  Using antiquated terminology that defines a person in terms of his disability sends the message that you have an underlying prejudice or see them as nothing more than their disability.  It’s demeaning and belittling.  Using person-first language, however, sends the message that the person is of value and worthy of respect, and gives the person an opportunity to define himself using his talents, characteristics, and other abilities.

It has been said that the population with disabilities is the only minority group that anyone can join at any time, whether at birth, as the result of an accident or illness, or simply as a part of growing older. If it were to suddenly happen to you, how would you want to be described?

Kit KatAsk Kit Kat – Nurse Kitty

Hook Law Center:  Kit Kat, what can you tell us about the cat who saved his owner from death?

Kit Kat:  Well, this is an unusual story. Glen Schallman adopted a cat whom he named Blake. Turned out it was a smart move! Blake has repeatedly saved Glen’s life by biting Glen’s toes or jumping on him when he senses danger. Glen has some rare medical conditions which mostly affect his brain. Two are polymicrogyria and unilateral schizencephaly. In addition, he has a brain tumor known as hypothalamic hamartoma. The latter causes seizures which are very frequent, almost daily. However, thanks to Blake, Glen is known as oldest living person with this combination of conditions. Without any training, Blake seems to sense when a seizure is about to happen, and he bites Glen’s toes or rouses him, so that Glen can move to a safe place before it happens. Once, Glen was having a seizure in the middle of the night. Blake bit his toes and woke him up before the seizure went on too long. In another, when Glen’s hands began to tremor, Blake jumped in Glen’s lap, stroked his arms and purred and purred until the tremors stopped. This helped to calm Glen, and help him recover more quickly than he otherwise might have done.

Usually it is dogs who are used as therapy companions, but in this case, a cat has fulfilled that role extremely capably. It appears that both our canine cousins and we felines have potential in feeling and perceiving that you humans are only beginning to understand. (Sheeka Sanahori, “Nurse Kitty! Cat bites owner’s toes, saves him from deadly seizure,” USA Today, (Humankind section), Oct.6, 2016)

Upcoming Seminars

Distribution of This Newsletter

Hook Law Center encourages you to share this newsletter with anyone who is interested in issues pertaining to the elderly, the disabled and their advocates. The information in this newsletter may be copied and distributed, without charge and without permission, but with appropriate citation to Hook Law Center, P.C. If you are interested in a free subscription to the Hook Law Center News, then please telephone us at 757-399-7506, e-mail us at mail@hooklawcenter.com or fax us at 757-397-1267.

Comments

comments

Posted on Monday, October 24th, 2016. Filed under Senior Law News.
Like us on Facebook
Planning Guides

Sign up for our email newsletter and get access to our free planning reports.

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Ask Kit Kat: Pet advice and wisdom as Kit Kat sees it.

ASK ME