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May 18, 2010


Rob Lavery

Excellent resource, thanks - it's always a challenge to change people's language around illness and disability. I worked for an AIDS service organization in the early '90's when 'victim' was commonly used to describe a person with AIDS or HIV. We had many briefings with media and spokespeople not to use the 'v' word - it mostly stuck!
Currently we're facing new legislation in Ontario that requires service workers to have sensitivity training for people with disabilities. R

Leslie O'Flahavan

Posted on behalf of Lisa Danielson of http://www.deborahsplace.org/

Hi Leslie,

I enjoyed reading your May 18 post about “Person First” language. My organization works to break the cycle of homelessness for women in Chicago, and we are constantly trying to reinforce that homelessness is an experience and not a defining characteristic of our participants. Thus, we impact “women who are homeless” or “women who have experienced homelessness”, rather than “homeless women”!

Thank you for promoting this important concept in your blog.


Leslie O'Flahavan

Posted -- with per mission -- on behalf of Bonnie Wahiba:

Please stop calling my daughter’s birth mother her “real” mother. (What does that make me?) Also, my daughter is a person first; being adopted is incidental. So she shouldn’t be called “my adopted daughter” but rather my daughter who is adopted. Better yet, don’t even mention she is adopted. That’s her story. Most egregious is when the parents of birth children and an adopted child are described as having three children and an adopted child. Lots of this happens in well-regarded media.

Leslie O'Flahavan

Posted -- with permission -- on behalf of Ellen Wilson Fielding

While I think the underlying point is fine, some of the list of preferable terms for people with disabilities I have problems with. "Nonverbal" is one, since "verbal" usually introduces that confusing "are we talking about writing or speaking?" issue. Something like non-speaking or non-talking would be simpler and clearer.

Also, except perhaps when making a series of comparisons between those with certain disabilities and those without, using "non-disabled" for someone without the disabilities in question seems kind of bizarre and even Orwellian. I understand the distaste for being called by implication "abnormal," but the "non-disabled" solution seems to define human abilities in terms of disabilities. We do in fact judge disabilities in relation to a human norm. We don't call humans who can't fly "disabled," because it is not normal (statistically) for human beings to fly. Maybe there is a term besides "normal" that seems to carry less baggage or applies in a more narrow way (since we often use "not normal" to refer to mental disorders, for example), but I'd shy from merely taking a word that describes a disability and then sticking a "dis" or "un" in front of it routinely as a solution.

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