People First Language

Best Buddies promotes social inclusion and respect for all people.  The easiest way to show respect is in how we speak about people.  People first language is an approach that many organizations and people in the Disability Rights movement use when speaking about our peers with disabilities.

People first language recognizes that individuals with disabilities are—first and foremost—people. It emphasizes each person’s value, individuality, dignity, and capabilities.

When choosing words to use about people with disabilities, refer to the person first, not the disability. A person with an intellectual or developmental disability should not be described as a “disabled person.” Best Buddies and its members use  “a person with an intellectual or developmental disability” instead.  By doing this, we place the emphasis on the person, not the disability.

By using people first language, we are helping to eliminate the negative stereotypes and limitations that others often ascrib to individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

The following examples provide guidance on what terms to use and which ones to avoid when talking or writing about people with disabilities.

Examples of  People First Language

Say:
People with disabilities.
He has an intellectual disability.
She has autism (or an autism diagnosis).
He has a diagnosis of Down syndrome.
She has a learning disability (diagnosis).
He has a physical disability (diagnosis).
She’s of short stature/she’s a little person.
He has a mental health diagnosis.
She uses a wheelchair/mobility chair.
He receives special ed services.
She has a developmental delay.
Kids without disabilities.
Communicates with her eyes/device/etc.
Congenital disability
Brain injury
Accessible parking, hotel room, etc.
She needs . . . or she uses . . .
Instead of:
The handicapped or disabled.
He’s mentally retarded.
She’s autistic.
He’s Down’s.
She’s learning disabled.
He’s a quadriplegic/crippled.
She’s a dwarf/midget.
He’s emotionally disturbed/mentally ill.
She’s confined/wheelchair bound.
He’s in special ed.
She’s developmentally delayed.
Normal or healthy kids.
Is non-verbal.
Birth defect
Brain damaged
Handicapped parking, hotel room, etc.
She has problems/special needs.

Click here to learn about People First Etiquette.

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