Disability Employment Awareness Month: Person-First Language

By Sarah Armour, JJ’s List Business Assistant & Disability Awareness Player

The language we use often defines the way we think about things and people, including people with disabilities. When referring to people with disabilities, we at JJ’s List prefer to use something called person-first language.

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What is Person-first language?

Person-first language is an effective and appropriate way to describe or to refer to someone with a disability. Person-first language literally means putting the person before the descriptor of disability when you are describing someone and you need to refer to their disability. It describes what a person has, not who a person is. For example, if you need to explain that a colleague has a disability, we prefer you say “my colleague with a disability” instead of “my disabled colleague.” And if you aren’t sure what to say, it is okay to ask the person how they’d like to be referred to.

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Why is Person-first language important?

Person-first language is important for a few reasons. Using person-first language makes us focus on the person instead of the disability. It’s more respectful. I am a person with a disability, but I want to be known as someone who lives and works in her community. I don't want to be labeled. It's alienating and can make people feel less than. Plus, my disability doesn't define who I am or what I am capable of.

Secondly, using person-first language makes good business sense. People with disabilities are customers, too! In fact, people with disabilities are the fastest-growing consumer base in the country. Treating them respectfully is good for business and good for your bottom line.

To be more inclusive, let’s focus on how we are similar to each other instead of focusing on our differences. You can start by using person-first language!

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Author Sarah Armour


jjslist.com is a social enterprise of Search, Inc that helps businesses meet the needs of customers or employees with disabilities by incorporating disability-aware marketing, customer service and employment best practices into core business strategies. Our small but mighty team is an integrated team with and without disabilities. We work together to spread disability awareness throughout the community with our Disability Awareness Trainings and to help individuals with disabilities build essential skills necessary for independence and employment with our Hop on the Bus to Independence Workshops. Jjslist.com also provides a platform for individuals to self-advocate and bring about social change by posting reviews about a business’ disability awareness and to express themselves by blogging.