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Yes, You Can Call Me Disabled

by Anjali J. Former-Pratt

Why? Because I am! Disability is not anything to be ashamed of. In fact, I am proud of my disabled identity.

You may have been taught not to use the word “disabled.” In fact, you may have been taught to use “person-first” language in which you identify the person before their disability (i.e., person with autism, person who uses a wheelchair, individual with cerebral palsy). There is a shift happening towards “identity-first” language in which we claim our disability and center in the terms that we use (i.e, disabled, Deaf, autistic).

There is a shift happening towards language in which we claim our disability and center. Historically, some disabled individuals and disability service providers pushed person-first language. Their intention was to get others not to focus on the impairment or on the disability itself, but instead to view people as people regardless of their differences. This is not wrong. In fact, at the time, it was seen as revolutionary and is a fundamental part of disability history. But even so, language evolves, and it’s time we reconsider the effect of this language on the disabled community.

Using identity-first language makes disability a marker of pride. It’s a little bit “in your face,” but that’s the point. Person-first language potentially diminishes a person’s disability identity by adding it on last. Activists from the disabled community have been pushing for identity-first language, some with a social media campaign called #SayTheWord (the word they want you to say is “disabled”).

To be clear, many disabled activists behind #SayTheWord use identity-first language interchangeably with person-first language. Both types should be embraced and accepted. But it’s also clear to many of us in the disabled community that we must collectively evolve and grow beyond the exclusive use of person-first language. Yes, this is messy, because there is no overall consensus within the disabled community on whether identity-first language versus person-first language is best. But why can’t there be room for both? Identity-first language is not offensive. Like you would with someone’s gender pronouns, follow the lead of the disabled person and his/her/their preferences.

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