Disability Identity & Language

Disability identity sometimes shows up in the ways people choose to refer to themselves, with some choosing ’identity-first’ language, while others choose ‘people first language.’  

Identity first language begins with describing the disability first when speaking about a person. For example, you might say “an autistic person” rather than “a person with autism.” People who prefer identity-first language argue that it acknowledges a core part of their identity. On the other hand, people with Down’s syndrome and other disability communities prefer person first language. So, you would say “person with Down’s syndrome” as opposed to “Down’s syndrome person.” 

Regardless of whether a person uses identity-first or person-first language to describe themselves, disability is only one aspect of an individual’s identity and it is up to them how they do that.

It can be helpful to use a combination of person-first and identity first language when describing disability communities broadly, and the more popular convention for specific communities. When talking about an individual, we use the Ask First method (ask the person what they prefer if you need to describe them by their disability). Most people with disabilities consider terms like “special needs,” “differently abled,” “handicapable,” and other euphemisms to be antiquated, so unless a disabled person (not their parent, teacher, or other support person) uses one of these terms to describe themselves, we generally avoid them. 

This link give you a disability language style guide: https://ncdj.org/style-guide/
This link gives you alternatives to disablist language: https://therollingexplorer.com/ableist-language-to-avoid-and-acceptable-alternatives-deformed-edition/

What’s your story?

“The first step in fighting for disability rights is sharing your story.”

Send us your story using the form below or send it to us in any format you wish: audio, video, picture or text.