People-First Language

Using person-first language places focus on individual human beings and not their characteristics. Rather than placing an adjective before the word person (or man, woman, etc.) or replacing that word with a term that refers to only one aspect of the person, it is generally much more considerate to say “person with…” or “person who…” when discussing disability. This guideline also works well when addressing other areas of human diversity.

The Human Resources Council for the Non-profit Sector in Canada stated that “descriptors that refer to personal attributes such as race, gender, sexual orientation, disability or age, for example, tend to over-emphasize and draw undue attention to the distinguishing attribute.” It is important to make absolutely certain that it is necessary to refer to a certain characteristic before doing so, particularly if it is superficial or something over which the individual being mentioned has little control. Mentioning a characteristic can imply that it is relevant when it may not be, or that the characteristic is somehow unusual.

The language we use shapes thoughts and attitudes, so it is important to think critically about how we influence ourselves and others with our words. Read the Inclusive Language Guidelines on hrcouncil.ca here. The University of Newcastle in Australia also has an Inclusive Language Guideline, found here.