Why I Use and Advocate for Identity-First Language
You have probably noticed in posts throughout my Love Disabled Life blog that I often write "disabled people" rather than "people with disabilities." This is known as "identity-first" language and not "person-first" language. Identity-first language embraces the term (or label) of disability as being at one with the identity of who a person is. The same as a person would do if they were referring to themselves racially or ethnically. For example it is not common nomenclature to say "person with a Swedishness" (I, happen to be of Swedish heritage) You would say, Swedish person.
I understand why the person-first movement started. Early in the disability rights movement it was common for a person's disability or medical condition to supersede a person's identity in a very objectifying way. We weren't seen as people. We were seen as what was "wrong" with us. It was that girl with Scoliosis, Jody, not Jody, who has scoliosis. Our person-hood was negated completely. Obviously this is not acceptable. In fact, it's just plain rude. So in an effort to de-objectify ourselves, and to provide more humanness of people who have a disability— which unfortunately could and can still be very stigmatizing and discriminatory— person-first language was highly emphasized as the politically correct and preferred way to address disabled people.
But a new movement within the disability community is growing. The growing prominence of disabled people proudly accepting their disability as one with their identity. The kids might say it's "flipping the script." We are saying that our disability shouldn't be an afterthought, made to be a subtext of our personhood. And moreover, that disability isn't a bad word. Look up the #SayTheWord on Twitter and you will find tweets of a lot of people such as myself who chose identity-first language. Moreover, we advocate that all disabled people should make that same choice too.
At the end of the day though, it is a choice. The disability community is not a monolith. Because disability touches all demographics: age, gender, race, etc. there are individuals who have different perspectives and life experiences. And those variations dictate how they identify with being disabled and their place (or not) in the community. It would be hypocritical for any disabled person to tell another disabled person how to self-identify, because that is what we resent about the non-disabled community doing to us.
The evolution in how we want to be identified is going to have to continue to come from within. Once we, disabled people more fully embrace the word "disabled" it will become less stigmatizing over time. Identifying as "disabled" also connects me to my disability culture and community. It is much more than a descriptive adjective. It is literally part of my DNA.
Words matter. Language matters. How we consciously choose to refer to ourselves, or request that others refer to us, means more than just a passing phrase or curteous greeting. Advocating for the use of identity-first language reinforces positive disability identity within ourselves, and sends a message to the world that being disabled isn't just okay, it's something to be proud of.
For more insightful and thoughtful articles on the difference between person-first and identity first language, check out these links below.
From the National Center on Disability and Journalism https://ncdj.org/2016/01/journalists-should-learn-to-carefully-traverse-a-variety-of-disability-terminology/