The JJs List Blog

Person First Language 101

Posted by on March 1, 2013 - 2 Comments

Person First Language: Are You In the Habit?

Why Use Person First Language?

a red and green apple discuss people first languageAt JJ’s List, we believe that what we say influences how we think. What we think influences how we behave. When we use person first language (also known as people first language), we send a simple, but important message: people with disabilities are people first. They just happen to have a disability. It’s a powerful mindset shift that makes a difference.

How Do I Begin Using Person First Language?

It’s easy! Here are 3 of the most basic things to keep in mind:

  1. Toss out the words “disabled” and “retard” from your vocabulary. They’re old school. Practice saying “person with a disability” instead.
  2. Phrases like “wheelchair-bound” and “confined to a wheelchair” are definitely not person-first. People who use wheelchairs use their chairs as a tool for getting around. It’s not confining, it’s freeing! So we say “person who uses a wheelchair” or “wheelchair user”.
  3. This last one’s tricky because it’s used all the time and is all over signage in our communities.   “Handicapped,” as in “handicapped bathroom” or “handicapped parking.”  Personally, we think that word should go the way of the dial-up modem.  The word “handicapped” is said to come from an old saying that referred to beggars with “cap in hand.”  Maybe that worked at Downton Abbey, but not today.  🙂  That’s why we prefer to say “accessible bathroom” or “accessible parking”.

see the person not the disabilitySmall Change, Big Difference

When you make a conscious effort to use person-first language, and encourage others to do the same, it’s amazing how quickly we can change our mindsets about disability. It doesn’t take much, so give it a go!
Have you had experience using person-first language? How has it influenced you? Share with us below!

Wanna Learn More?

We offer great Disability Awareness Training for Businesses to help staff get more comfortable and confident in interacting with people with disabilities. Learn more about how you can boost the disability-awareness of your business.
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Written by Shuling Yong
Shuling Yong is the Digital Marketing and Community Engagement Specialist at, a disability awareness training, credentialing and digital marketing social enterprise connecting businesses and people with disabilities. You can find her on Google+ and Twitter.

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