could you please explain to me why 'person first language' is so problematic to you? i work at a down syndrome achievement center and every parent that i've spoken with about the topic prefers 'children with down syndrome' 'children with disabilities' etc rather than 'disabled children' and the like. why do you feel differently about it? i'm just genuinely curious and not trying to be any trouble so i'm sorry if i offend you in any way
sure thing! for your reference: i am approaching this from the perspective of a chronically ill, disabled woman who has worked in a similar position (a social skills program for autistic children).
here’s your first red flag: “every parent that i’ve spoken with about the topic prefers…”
abled parents of disabled children are one of the worst sources when it comes to how to treat disabled people.
more than half of all abuse against disabled people is perpetuated by family members, and the remaining portion is almost entirely by disability “professionals”
birthing or adopting a disabled child does not inherently make you a good disability advocate, and to be honest, i’ve yet to meet a parent of a disabled child who wasn’t blatantly ableist.
when trying to figure out how to be a good advocate for disabled people, you should always go to disabled people first. listen to them and their experiences, not the abled parents whose views are going to be incredibly biased (when you are tasked with raising someone, that vastly influences how you interact with them—very often, leaning towards encouraging behaviors and interaction that control the disabled child and make them behave the way the parents want them to).
the majority of the disabled community prefers “disabled person” over “person with disabilities”. now, there are definitely people who prefer the latter, and their wishes should always be respected when referring to them. but on the whole, the preferred term is disabled people.
as for why this is.
abled parents love the term “person with disabilities” because it separates the person and their disability. this is a tactic used to fuel rhetoric in which disability is not an identity, but rather something tacked on to a person, and that if you just ignore the disability you’ll see the “real” person.
it fails to acknowledge that, for many, many people, their disability is an intrinsic part of who they are. denying that is ableist rhetoric that perpetuates the idea that abled is the default and disability is something that is “tacked on” to that default. it ignores how fundamental it can be to a person’s identity, and ignores that disability affects day to day functioning and affects them as a person.
it’s a difficult concept for me to explain clearly, but… consider this. what if, instead of saying “gay people”, we said “people with homosexuality”. sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? because we recognize that homosexuality is an intrinsic part of who someone is and how they interact with the world. that doesn’t mean their homosexuality defines them—just that it’s not some extra thing tacked on to a “normal” person as a modifier.
that’s kind of the deal with “people with disabilities” vs “disabled people”. i do not “have” biromanticism or asexuality. i do not “have” a disability. i AM biromantic and asexual. i AM disabled. it’s a part of who i am, and ignoring that is part of an effort to make abled people more comfortable by allowing them to push disability to the side and act like it’s not an important part of who i am.
this is particularly offensive when talking about neurotype. i can sort of understand someone calling me a “person with a disability” as chronic illness does sound like something you “have” (such as you “have” cancer) if you don’t understand it. this is wrong, but less inherently ableist than when talking about people who are neuro-atypical. for example: saying someone “has autism” rather than “is autistic” is implicitly saying that there is a non-autistic person being “modified” by the autism, and that if you get rid of the autism you will see the “true” person. this is patently false. if you “remove” the autism from an autistic person, you will have a completely different person. autism is part of how the brain is wired; you can’t get rid of autism without getting rid of the person. (this is why it’s so horrifying when abled parents say they wish their children weren’t autistic: they are literally saying “i wish i did not have this child, i wish i could get rid of this one and have a completely different child”)
i think part of the reason people are so desperate to use terms like “people with disabilities” “special needs” “differently abled” and the absurd “handicapable” is because they assume “disabled” is a slight on one’s character. they assume being disabled is a bad thing, so they try and separate it into something the person “has” rather than is, because it makes them more comfortable. but this is an extremely ableist line of thinking: being disabled is not a mark against me; “disabled” is not an insult.
in fact, disabled is not a reflection of me at all. disabled is a reflection of society. i am disabled by society. society is not set up to allow people like me to function at an optimal level. that is what is disabling. if the entire world would accommodate me completely, i would no longer be disabled. i’d still be chronically ill (no amount of accomodations can make up for constant nausea and dizziness), but i wouldn’t be disabled. because disability is a reflection of how you function in a society designed for abled people.
that’s why, say, near-sighted people aren’t necessarily disabled. i am near-sighted, but that does not disable me—because i a) have the equipment to adjust for that (glasses), b) am not discriminated against for it or refused access when i use this assistive device, and c) do not experience increased rates of poverty, abuse, assault, homelessness, etc. for it. so therefore that is not a disability, because society does not disable me for it.
but abled people assume disabled is an insult to me, describing me as “broken”. it’s not. it’s describing society as broken, and associating “disabled” with “broken” is another extremely popular line of ableism that’s easy to fall into.
that was pretty long and i apologize, but it’s a pretty nuanced subject and i had a lot to say. does it make sense to you? feel free to ask any more questions you may have!
(note: the concept i explained above is, i believe, called the “social model of disability”, so reading up on that may help you! but i’m not sure, as i haven’t done any official reading associated with that specific term. i just know what i know and what i have learned when it comes to disability vs society and the social model seems to describe that)