Person First Language

I am currently studying to become a special education teacher. One topic that always comes up in all my education classes is the need for person first language when it comes to people with disabilities. The concept is to put the person first, the disability second. A person shouldn't be defined by their disability, instead, they should be defined as a person.

For example: Instead of saying "the Autistic child", it's better to say, "the child with Autism". Or, "the student with a learning disability", instead of "The learning disabled (or handicapped) student". While to some it may seem trivial, I think that it really does make a difference in our perception of a person. Just think about the "R" word that is becoming obsolete - our language that we use is important!

It wasn't until I was reading a passage in a book called "Reflections from a Different Journey: What Adults with Disabilities Wish Their Parents Knew", when one of the authors spoke about their Type 1 Diabetes as being a disability that I really made the connection between having Type 1 and this person first language. While I do not see myself as having a disability, I do understand why others may. 

This has all led me to think a lot about how I use the term "Diabetic". I really do think I like being "a person with type 1 diabetes" opposed to "a type 1 diabetic". I have started to try to stop saying it, and instead say I am a person with Type 1 diabetes.

I'm curious about what other people think of this person first language when it comes to our Type 1!? Should we be included in this person first language?


(And in case anyone is wondering, I highly recommend the book I mention! It was a great, quick read that is really insightful into a wide range of different abilities)

I've always hated the term "you ARE a diabetic". I AM not. I HAVE diabetes. You wouldn't discuss someone as "being" cancerous. You would say they "have" the disease. If they had heart disease you wouldn't say the "are" diseased. It's taken a long time for that attitude to take hold though.

I think the normal human perspective is a disease. I hate hearing normal people freaking out because their meal was over cooked while out to eat. I'm just happy to be able to count the carbs well enough to go out and eat with a friend, period. I don't think we're diseased, i think we have a very humbled and loving perspective on life. I think most normal people are diseased in their perspective on the gift of life.

While I appreciate the sentiment and motivation, it doesn't seem that significant.  It would be best if people developed thicker skins rather than having everyone else tiptoe around them for fear of offending.  Having the disease is much more bothersome than hearing somebody refer to it with one term or another.

Also the negative connotations from words develop after the fact, not beforehand.  Thus to some degree the attempts to soften the phrasing are doomed.  In the financial world, a bad economic situation used to be called a panic, then a depression, then a recession, then a downturn.  As each of these became associated with the unpleasant thing they in fact described, a move was made to change the term.  Similarly the word you cautiously avoided for cognitive impairment wasn't originally derogatory.  It became an insult that children would nastily fling at each other because it described the condition.  If the term had been "banana" instead, then that is the word that would have absorbed the unfavorable meaning.

To me it is about a person's intent.  That can't be captured solely with phrasing.  It also has to do with emotion, delivery and context.  If somebody is trying to help me, shows real concern and calls me a type 1 diabetic, I would be foolish to take offense.  If somebody dismissively says I should take better care of myself because I'm just a person with type 1 diabetes (or living with type 1 diabetes, or touched by type 1 diabetes) it is still condescension, and it rankles all the more because they are surely congratulating themselves for being so enlightened.

The person with diabetes should use whatever term they prefer.  

Personally I feel silly using the first person language.  I am a diabetic.  That's not bad, it's just a descriptor that sums up something important about me.  Like saying, I am a woman or I am a parent.  

i <3 ebgineer and jenna!!!!

I love your guys' posts, always rational, poignant and just. I don't think anyone could say it better than you two have. And i really love what you said Jenna in that, hell yeah i'm a diabetic, i wouldn't be telling the truth if i said every decision i make doesn't start with a break down of how my type 1 will be a factor. Its one of the foremost and most prevalent concerns in every decision i make, how could i not be noticeably defined by it???

I think you're great too Scott!

We all deal with this issue in different ways.  When I was 15 I insisted on being a "person with diabetes" now that I'm 40 I really don't care what people call me.  I'm just living my life. =)

Take care.