If you have been called a name, you've probably felt like that nasty descriptor for a long time. Why? Because you were 'labeled' as something other than what you are – human. Think about the impact it would have if you were continually called that name for days, weeks, years on end. You would believe you are that mean name. You would probably lose self worth, as well your sense of being a human with abilities and strengths.
People with disabilities live every day being labeled. These individuals with disabilities may not blatantly be called 'handicapped' or 'retarded' to their face (most people should know better than that). But, for some reason, we use this language in the newspaper, on television and in causal conversation with no regard for the abilities of the person.
Use People First Language
People First Language is a way of speaking and writing that puts the person first, and not their disability or medical condition.
People with disabilities are athletes, mothers, fathers, celebrities, politicians, heroes, neighbors, leaders and teachers. They are not damaged goods, like a broken cell phone. They are people with desires, feelings, talents, minds, hearts and civil rights.
I was walking down the street the other day next to a man with visual impairment. A passer-by said to his friend "watch out for the blind man." To me, hearing that is like nails on a chalkboard. To me, he is not a blind man. He is a person with a life, a future, a sense of humor, and a mind who happens to have visual impairment. He is far from blind. He may not see as well as I do but he's a better runner and more accomplished musician and scholar than I am.
The next time you are talking about a person with a disability consider discussing the person first. Say, "Amy is a woman with a disability." Or, "John is a Graphic Designer with hearing loss."
And, consider this: the American with Disabilities Act defines a disability as: has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. Have YOU ever fit into that description? I know I have.
Sara Koppelman is the Program and Development Manager for the Sports 4 All Foundation.