As a professor in a College of Education, my colleagues always tell students to use person-first language when referring to students with disabilities. It is not an ‘autistic person’ but a ‘person with autism;’ not a ‘diabetic kid,’ but a ‘kid with diabetes.’ The idea is that the person comes first, and the disability or difference comes second.
I get why they do it, and while I don’t want to argue against person-first language, I do want to argue the following. First, I want to argue that while first person language may not be a bad thing, the arguments for it generally don’t survive close scrutiny; those arguments both misunderstand how we use language and maybe overestimate how the proposed language change really affects how people think. Second, I want to argue that there are arguments for why person-first language is not always appropriate; that sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t, and that in certain instances, it may have the opposite effect of those its users intend
So, to be clear, I’m not saying that person-first is always a bad thing, just that the arguments for it tend not to be terribly good and that there are reasons why sometimes, it may not be the best way to speak. (more…)