Yo soy La Lay

adventures in family, faith, and Down syndrome

Advocacy #5: Use people-first language

on October 5, 2015

In the Down syndrome community, great effort is made to help the world see our children first.  There are pros and cons to having a visible disability.  On the positive side, people recognize that you may need help.  On the negative, people assume that you need help.  It’s a double-edged sword.

People-first language establishes that an individual is defined as a person before any particular diagnosis.  It means calling Tessa “a child with Down syndrome” and not a “Downs child.”

I have to assert here that we are talking about the Down syndrome community.  Other communities (for example, the Autistic community) have a different viewpoint.

To me though, people-first language means dropping the label altogether as often as possible.  I realize that there are times when her diagnosis needs to be communicated and referred to.  I’m not in the business of pretending that it isn’t there.  However, in my mind, person-first language goes beyond saying “a child with Down syndrome” and just saying “a child.”  An example…. humor me here, please…

Say you run into Tessa and I in a Panera.  She’s her usual ham of a self, giving you high-fives and blowing kisses.

“Wow!” you might respond, “what a sweet little Downs baby!”

or maybe “Wow!  What a sweet little baby with Down syndrome!”

or perhaps “Wow, what a sweet little baby!”

In the Down syndrome community, our preference would be choice three.

But, shhhh, I’ll tell you a little secret.  If you mean no harm, I’m not going to correct you on any of it.

I’ll be the first to recognize that for the standard human, there are a lot of rules to follow from a variety of communities who all just want what is best for their members.  My plea tonight is not just to those who are not directly tied to the Ds community, but to our own members as well.  Fight the battles worth fighting.  Make a point to teach a lesson when you can make a difference. Use love and example and above all else, be patient with those who are learning.

If the person is being blatantly rude just to be an ass, by all means, have at them.

But otherwise, lead by example.  People first, if you would please.

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One response to “Advocacy #5: Use people-first language

  1. Kelly says:

    This is a great point! I work with young adults with disabilities and I tried to stress the point that if they are going to correct someone, despite the anger, they need to say it nicely.

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