In the world of Disability Awareness training, there are several main themes that are addressed. Many of these themes are designed, to state the obvious, to raise awareness of the issues that individuals with disabilities face on a daily basis. The goal is to allow the general population to travel just a few feet in our shoes and by doing so, gain an understanding of what it means to facilitate accessibility for ourselves and those around us.
A primary cachet of awareness is the language by which individuals with disabilities are referred to. This is considered for the purpose of enabling effective communications that simply allows a conversation to not revert back to the same “interesting” topics over and over. In order to offer disability aware habits, we talk about Person-First language. This has the intended goal of reminding folks that individuals with disabilities are individuals first. There’s a person behind those characteristics that you might be so curious about and may be tempted to ask questions about.
However, that individual will sometimes value the fact that their disability is a part of their identity and possibly culture. So that muddies the water of how to address Person-First language. When a characteristic is used to describe a person, it becomes Identity-First language. These two descriptive strategies, Person-First or Identity-First, can change situationally.
Often, in the mainstream world, we’ll prefer to be known for who we are beyond our identifying characteristics. Our personalities, skills, knowledge, and hobbies are often what we’ll want to discuss with those around us. But oftentimes, we’ll seek out shared experiences with others who experience life in a similar manner as ourselves. In those cases, the disability becomes a part of the conversation in terms of how to identify ourselves. We’re proud of where we come from and what we’ve experienced, for it shapes who we are in many ways. So which is right?
Which is appropriate? It takes a certain amount of social skill to determine which form of identifying language a person with disabilities prefers. First of all, listen to us. Let us give you clues as to what we prefer. If we refer to ourselves as a person with a disability, that’s a dead giveaway right there. If we call themselves profoundly deaf, that’s another helpful hint. More often than not, it’s a matter of understanding that the point isn’t necessarily the word placement but steering away from outrageous words and towards the idea of acknowledging a person’s value as the priority.