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Thursday, October 3, 2013

Yes, That Too Guest Post by Alyssa

Language for Perspectives on Disability

Trigger Warning: references to ableist slurs

It's for the class, Perspectives on Disability.
The question is:
What language do you use to talk about disability? Why might person-first language be helpful?
Yeah, it's leading. It implies that person-first language is inherently better, which, um, no. And the professor has a stepson with autism, so... this is going to be fun. Here's the answer I'm giving.

The language I use to talk about disability varies depending on many factors. The first factor is who I'm talking about. If I'm talking about one specific person, the language preference of that one specific person is the only factor I'm going to think about. That's it. The language they want used when referring to them and to their disability is what I'm going to use. Sometimes that means "person with autism." Sometimes that means "Autistic person"- that's what I am. Sometimes that means "person with CP." Sometimes that means "palsy person." Yes, I really do have a friend who has palsy person as one of her accepted terms- she blogs at That Crazy Crippled Chick.
If I'm talking about a group of people, my language depends on the group. If it's a group of people who are together as part of an organization, I look up the organizational preference. Sometimes that's person-first, sometimes it's not. The Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) uses identity-first language. TASH accepts both, largely because of working with ASAN and the ASAN people wanting to be able to use identity-first language when talking about themselves. Some organizations will want "person with a hearing impairment." Others will want "Deaf people."
For a group that's outside an organization, I check on the individual member's preferences. If I can't find theirs, I see if there is a preference for their specific disability as a whole. (Blind/with low vision, Deaf/with hearing impairment, and Autistic/with autism are examples of there not actually being a consensus, no matter what people on the individual sides may try to tell you.)
The language the people use talking about themselves can provide clues, too. When I talked about Ethan, the author of "Ethan's Story: My Life with Autism," I could guess from his language that he prefers person-first, so I used it. I called him a person with autism.
When there really is no way to tell what the preference is for the people being talked about, it can go one of two ways. If it's autism and I can't tell, I default to my language preference, since I am Autistic. Otherwise, I go for "what is the majority preference of people with this disability/these types of disabilities in my audience?" followed by "what is the majority preference of audience members in general?" When I wrote a piece for ASAN about the use of the R word, my use of "people with developmental disabilities" came from majority preference of people with these types of disabilities- autism isn't the only developmental disability out there, not by a long shot, and as far as I know, none of the others have major pushes for identity-first language going on. With "the whole internet" as my potential audience, I went for person-first language.
Person-first language has things it was meant to do when it was first put forth by self-advocates. Those are good things. It's supposed to be about seeing people as people. It's supposed to be about respect. It's supposed to be about recognizing humanity, essentially. For people who prefer to be referred to using person-first language, it is the most respectful language to use. For most disabilities, it's a safe default, too. That's another use. It's better than assuming we know a person is suffering because of disability, certainly- I'd not censor someone who does think they are suffering from something, but it's really presumptuous to assume that they are! So that's another way that person-first can be good- it beats a thing that's presumptuous as can be. It's just not something we should insist on using to describe people who don't want to be described that way. That's about respect too.

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