Statement on Language

There are two prevalent ways that we identify with disability in language: person-first and identity-first. Both options have implications for how we think about disability.

Person-first language distances the person from the disability, ostensibly to separate the person from the negative connotations and stigma with which we have all been socialized. As professionals, many of us have been taught that person-first language is preferable, and some disabled individuals choose to identify as a person first, based on their personal orientation to disability. Example: I am a woman with a disability. I am separate from the stereotypes and stigma you associate with disability.

Identity-first language challenges negative connotations by claiming disability directly. Identity-first language references the variety that exists in how our bodies and brains work with a myriad of conditions that exist, and the role of inaccessible or oppressive systems, structures, or environments in making someone disabled. Example: I am disabled, queer, and Latinx. I have an impairment, and I am disabled by societal barriers.

These language choices underscore the differences between impairment and disability. “Impairment” is the term used by disability studies scholars to refer to a physiological difference in one’s body or brain. Disability is a lived experience with far-reaching political, social, and economic implications.

As DASS moves to promote concepts of disability informed by social justice, we are adopting identity-first language across all communication, information, and materials. We also recognize the preference of some for person-first language and will continue to respect its usage.

When referencing disability, naming it explicitly is important. DASS embraces the word “disability” and actively avoids the use of outmoded euphemisms such as “special needs,” “physically or mentally challenged,” differently- or alternatively-abled, etc.

  Adapted from AHEAD Statement on Language