Person-First Language


Language that emphasizes someone's personhood first and foremost, signifying that their disability does not make up their overall identity. Common examples include "people with disabilities" and "people who live with disabilities."


Person-first language has been the preferred choice of many state governments, such as Missouri (PDF) and New York (PDF). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also have recommended the use of person-first language.

People in the disability community have differing views on the use of person-first language. Some in the disability community may prefer person-first language because they want to be seen for themselves, not their disability. For example, various people with mental health conditions might choose person-first language because, as Mental Health America phrased it, "it is important that people are seen first as people and not seen as their mental health condition. People are not Schizophrenic, Bipolar, or Borderline. People are not cases or illnesses to be managed." People who use person-first language may feel that it helps prevent others from dehumanizing them subconsciously on the basis of their disability.

However, others prefer not to use person-first language because they feel that their disability is an inherent, inseparable part of their identity. For example, some in the autism community feel that the need to distance a person from their disability implies that that disability is a negative concept. Autistic activist Lydia Brown has stated that the phrase "person with autism" implies that people are "saying that autism is detrimental to value and worth as a person, which is why we separate the condition with the word 'with' or 'has.'" In Brown’s perspective, when people use person-first language, they "suppress the individual's identity as an Autistic person because we are saying that autism is something inherently bad like a disease," which Brown disagrees with.

As Meriah Nichols, a person in the disability community who chooses not to use person-first language, put it, "we don’t all want to be able-bodied" (or, to use phrasing that includes multiple kinds of disabilities, not all disabled people wish they weren’t disabled). In addition to the autism community, many in the blind and deaf communities have been known to often not prefer person-first language.

No matter which position certain disability communities most often display on this topic, the individuals in those communities may have different preferences. The loudest voices of any community do not represent all of its voices.