People with disabilities are first and foremost people, with dreams, hopes, wishes, and talents far beyond what their disability may indicate. According to The Arc, a national advocacy group for individuals with disabilities, one in every five individuals has a disability. Think about this…you are at the grocery store and a women passes you in a wheelchair, do you make assumptions why she may need the wheelchair? Do you see the woman or her wheelchair? If your child asks you, “What’s wrong with that lady?” What is your response?
When you refer to the person who has Autism, what comes first: the individual or the diagnosis? Do you say “my autistic nephew” or “my nephew who has autism?” This is important because the way we speak or write about someone greatly influences the images and attitudes we form about them leaving behind a positive or negative impression for others. (Blaska, 1990).
Now more than ever in our media driven society this person first language is needed. The images and words used to describe others can be very powerful and influential. The media, especially through social media, can have an enormous impact on society’s knowledge, attitudes, and public policies regarding individuals with disabilities. (Blaska, 1990) This is especially important as our children are always watching and emulating what we do and say. If we teach our children to accept and include others who are different imagine what our world would be like. This starts with something as simple and easy as people first language.