I admit that I never used to give much thought to person-first language when it came to my disability. Honestly, I didn’t really care if people referred to me as “person with a disability” or “disabled person” because to some degree, I didn’t see a clear distinction between the two. They both seemed to convey the same thing to me.
Is that bad??
I wonder about that sometimes, like, am I being a “bad” disability advocate if I don’t have a preference? Am I somehow not standing up for the disability community? Over the years, I’ve learned that the disability language people use is a very personal choice. Some prefer person-first language while others use disability-first. At one point, I was very pro person-first language. I definitely preferred saying “I am a person with a disability.”
I never wanted to be defined by my disability and I felt like saying I was a “disabled person” sort of dehumanized me. It was like saying that my disability came before my personhood. It was like saying that my disability was the most important thing about me.
As I’ve gotten older, though, I’m growing more and more comfortable with either option. I’m sure some of this shift has to do with the fact that I’m more comfortable and confident when it comes to my disability. I know that my disability is just one aspect of who I am.
Especially in my career as a writer, I’ve dealt with this question a lot since I explore my disability so much in my essays. For me, my disability is definitely a part of me, and there’s no getting around that. But the word “part” is very important — my disability is just one part of who I am. Just like I have red hair and am right-handed. Those are parts of me, just like my disability is. Saying this doesn’t mean I’m ashamed of my disability or that I hate it; I’ve actually come to embrace my disability and am proud of the person it’s helped me become. But in the end, it doesn’t define me or overrides the other “parts” of myself.
The bottom line? How people with disabilities (or disabled people…) refer to themselves is completely their choice and what makes them feel the most comfortable. Autonomy is so important when it comes to all aspects of disability life, and even something as seemingly insignificant like a moniker is actually a pretty significant thing. It’s not small by any means. Definitely take your cue from the person you’re talking about or talking to. People who have disabilities are the best advocates and the ones who are the experts.
Remember, an honest and open conversation when it comes to disabilities is never wasted! xoxo
[Photos via We Heart It]