People-First Language

A letter to the editor in a recent issue of America Magazine caught my eye. In response to an editorial in a prior issue titled Dignity of the Disabled, the author of the letter wrote

I would like to emphasize the importance of avoiding the term “disabled” wherever possible and to use people-first language (“people with disabilities”), which can help center us on what is most important: the human person, rather than the exclusionary category.

A simple point, but a very important one. Whatever the source of the disability or impediment, when we speak of a disabled person, a blind person, a diabetic, a deaf person, etc, we risk reducing the persons of whom we speak “to one characteristic, making them one dimensional and ignoring all of the other strengths and talents they possess.”

Language matters. It affects how we see, how we think of others.

Pope Francis spoke just the other day about the importance of remedying exclusion of people with disabling conditions, of a solidarity that welcomes all. It helps us to do that to actually see the whole person in front of us, and not merely a single characteristic – one that seemingly makes them different from us.

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