Inclusive language inspires equality

By MacKenzie Meadows

Person-first language is important to the identity of those who have a physical or mental disability. Person-first language is the philosophy of putting the person before their disability in conversation, according to North Shore Pediatric Therapy. The language used by society and the labels placed on others are impactful. Often, people look for the medical diagnoses to label people and give value to someone.

Identifying someone based on their society-perceived negative characteristic is not only harmful to the person but is also taking away from all the good characteristics that make that person who they really are. A person is more than a disability.

“Person-first language is very important,” junior nursing major Ashley Nickels said. “A person with a disability is a person just as everyone else, and describing them as not normal, handicapped or mentally retarded is disrespectful. There are other words more respectful that person-first language tries to incorporate to put the person before their disability.”

Having a disability does not mean a person is a problem; sometimes, when society defines disabilities, they do so with a negative implication that the person with a disability is broken. Focusing on the strengths of individuals who have disabilities further provides positive recognition in regard to the sometimes negative connotation society has on disabilities.

Those with a disability are in the world’s largest minority. Currently, around 10 percent of the world’s population is living with a disability, an astonishing 650 million people, with females having higher rates of disability than males, according to a 2018 Disabled World report.

With many people having a disability, person-first language is more important than ever, giving people the opportunity to display characteristics that make them who they truly are. Using disability-first language or words cause harm to the individuals. Harms, such as ignoring individuality, equating intellectual disability with being dumb and spreading hurt, are offensive and identify as hate speech, according to Spread the Word to End the Word.

“Person-first language matters because you want the person to be acknowledged before their disability,” Karissa Sampson, sophomore pre-physical therapy major, said.

Although a person may have a recognizable disability, you don’t want it to define who they are.”

RELATED: Alpha Sigma Alpha members volunteer for Special Olympics         

Spread the Word to End the Word is an organization raises awareness about the harmfulness of using the word retard by getting people to pledge and sharing stories and reasons why certain words should not be used.

The Presidential Commission on Persons with Disabilities [PCPD] held a meeting in early October where they discussed person-first language. The commision works with students from Disability Ally & Advocacy Associations [DALLAS] and Active Minds to improve the climate of NIU’s campus for disabled students through monthly meetings, according to an Oct. 21 Northern Star article.

During the meeting, the commission discussed how to interact with individuals with a disability, using person-first language. Many people spoke out about the importance of person-first language.

“It’s important that we ask people how they would like to be addressed instead of just assuming,” DALLAS Secretary Emma Falk said. “People with disabilities should be able to take charge of their own identity.”

In addition to different NIU clubs and the PCPD getting involved in the interests of those with disabilities, another organization also involved itself with Spread the Word to End the Word to make their impact on the importance of person-first language.

Alpha Sigma Alpha got involved with Spread the Word to End the Word in 2015, where they promoted the abolishment of the R-word in its entirety. They host an event every year called Do it To The Crowd in April, where other organizations can compete in a dance contest to help raise awareness and fundraise for Illinois Special Olympics. During this event, there is a Spread the Word to End the Word banner, where students can pledge to not use the R-word in a derogatory way toward those with disabilities or in any other capacity.

“With Special Olympics being one of our philanthropies, it’s so important to support them in every way possible. For several years, we’ve participated in Spread the Word to End the Word, where we campaigned and pledged to put down the R word,” former member of Alpha Sigma Alpha, Megan Small, and the person who brought the campaign locally to NIU, said. “As individuals, we must understand that diversity and inclusion is a necessity for our lives. Thus, putting someone down by using any derogatory term is unacceptable and uncalled for.”

Person-first language should be used in fluid conversation when talking to people with disabilities. It has the ability to make a more positive environment, and it has the possibility of avoiding a hierarchy between people with disabilities and those without any.