In an era where people generally want to be more respectful and inclusive of different populations, it's sometimes hard to determine what the "right" thing to say is. To be quite honest, before I started working at The Arc Wayne, I struggled with deciding what I should and shouldn't say or ask to someone with a disability. I want to let all of you know the most important thing that I learned when talking with the individuals we support – they are just that: individuals. No two of them are the same, and they most definitely have their own personalities, interests, hobbies, and skills.
Just because someone has different abilities, their importance in society is not diminished. I've met some of the most hard-working, kind-hearted people down in our Key Industries Workshop, in our IRA's, and out in the community. They want the same basic things we all want: a decent home, friends, family, a marriage, a good job, and the ability to take fun vacations.
I'm hoping this advice regarding people-first language will be a launching pad for positive interactions between you and the individuals you interact with. If you take one thing away from this, let it be that someone's disability does not define who they are as a person and does not always prohibit him or her from accomplishing goals and reaching dreams.
So, what is people-first language? The Arc defines it this way: "People First Language puts the person before the disability, and describes what a person has, not who a person is. Using a diagnosis as a defining characteristic reflects prejudice, and also robs the person of the opportunity to define him/herself."
For example, if someone is diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, it would inappropriate to label him or her as "autistic." It would be better to say, "He or She has Autism." This emphasizes the person rather than the disorder. It's something that is a part of the person, not the person as a whole.
Almost 1 in 5 Americans has a disability – making it the largest minority population. It is also one of the most diverse minority populations because it is made up people from all cultures, backgrounds, races, and ethnicities. Disabilities don't discriminate, and neither should we. Individuals with disabilities are friends, coworkers, moms, dads, neighbors, daughters, sons, teachers, students, brothers, and sisters. All it takes is a genuine smile and an understanding that a disability does not define someone.
At The Arc Wayne, we are dedicated to helping individuals with disabilities feel welcomed and included in our communities. Thank you for your help and support with this goal.
Jessica Blondell, our Community Relations Specialist, writes all of our blog posts to keep everyone who supports The Arc Wayne up-to-date with what the agency is doing in the community. Enjoy!