Coming to college was a culture shock for me, but delving into all the lessons this school had for me as a social work major was even more of a shock. I’ve come to realize so much of what I thought I knew was far from reality. One of the things I have learned is the importance of using first person language. Think about a time when you were describing someone. It is not uncommon when speaking of another to use characteristics to describe that person. Often when this happens, the characteristic is placed before the person. This type of description makes that characteristic more important than the people themselves. Examples include:

  • Bipolar person
  • Intellectually disabled person
  • Autistic
  • A ‘normal’ kid

This kind of language defines people by their challenges or disabilities. By using person first language, we can change the focus of our words thus making the world more inclusive. A way to say the above examples in person first language is:

  • A person with bipolar disorder
  • An individual who is intellectually challenged
  • A person with autism
  • Someone without disabilities

Next time you are talking about someone, pay attention to the emphasis placed on the description. Is it on the person or the characteristic?  Challenge yourself to use person- first language.

Written by Kim Brosius, Peer Educator