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  • Written by Ethan Dahlquist

First things First: Person First Language


Many of us grew up hearing words like retarded, low-functioning, simple, moronic, etc. when talking about people with a disability. A disability is just something that makes doing certain things difficult for someone, but it does not define who they are or how they should be spoken about. Many people don't think about how offensive these words can be to people with a disability.

Growing up with a brother who has a traumatic brain injury, I would hear other kids call him retarded, or slow, or take advantage of his good nature and heart of gold. I saw how it affected him. When people he thought were his friends would ditch out on their plans, it hurt. Every time it happened, I saw the pain in his eyes and on his face, a pain that is hard to put into words. It was a pain that I also felt, as his brother. He brought that pain with him, and at times it made him doubt himself. As his brother, all I wanted was to protect him from that pain. If someone couldn't be respectful of that, they were a person I didn't want to be around.

I'm grateful and blessed that my brother and I are only 13 months apart, and have always been very close. I like to think I've always been one of his greatest advocates. We did everything together growing up, wrestled year round, baseball, football, video games. We even shared a bedroom all the way through high school. So I've always been fiercely protective of him, and always will be.

As a brother to a person with a TBI, this issue is personal for me. It is something that isn't talked about enough. Its something we all need to be conscious of and make a point to be better about. It all boils down to a matter of respect. DO you RESPECT people with disabilities?!

The word retarded is STILL being said, non-chalant-ly, as an insult. The word "retarded," literally makes me cringe when I hear it being used. It is DEROGATORY. It is 2019! How difficult is it? Does it really take being siblings or family with someone who has a disability to see how wrong and hurtful certain language can be?

Words to Avoid:

-Disabled Person

-Low-Functioning

-Normal/Healthy Person

-He/she has a problem with

-Non-Verbal

-Learning Disabled

-Retarded, Slow, Moronic, Special Person

Words to say:

-Person with a disability

-He/She has a disability

-Person with an Intellectual, Cognitive, Developmental Disability

-Person with greater support needs

-He/She needs, or He/She Uses

A lot of times in our society, all you have is your word. Language is used to inform others, to ask them to do certain things and to express feelings, moods, ideas, information, experiences etc. It also allows us to show respect towards others, and just as easily it can show disrespect. How you use language gives others a direct view into your beliefs and morals, which is one of the reasons it is so important to use language which reflects those things. Since it seems society needs a reminder on how to show respect when speaking to someone:

-Look at someone when you are talking to them.

-If you are working or in public and are interacting with someone who as a disability, speak directly to that person and not to those who are with them or assisting them.

-Everyone is capable of expressing themselves in some way, whether it be verbally, gesturally, or through a communication device. Give them a chance to do so!

-Be respectful in your tone, don't talk down to people or in a condescending fashion.

-Do not assume what someone is not capable of! Ask someone if they need help with something!

-Think before you speak. Taste your words before you spit them out.

Remember, before you can change the world, you have to change yourself.

We can all make a big difference in this world, by spreading positivity through language. By changing the words we use to describe others, we can begin to change the way people think about people who have disabilities.


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