Why I passionately hate Person First Language

Some people decided a while back that people with disabilities sounds better to them than disabled people. And Person First Language, PFL, was born. It’s always in the form of person with insert-disability. Instead of an autistic man, you get a man with autism and so on.

I hate PFL. I’ll call you whatever you want, and use your terminology. Meanwhile, quit with the silly PFL. The worst offenders seem to be autism parents, meaning parents whose children are autistic. “Mother of a son with autism”. No. How about parents with autism of their children? If you can’t see your child or children past their disability labels, your parenting is a bit offputting.

I’m not a “woman with autism”, “woman with autism spectrum disorder”, “woman with visual impairments”. I choose to decide how I describe myself. So if I were to use PFL, I would say I am an autistic person with visual impairments and who suffers from femaleness. There, even more crimes of disability-PC terminology (“suffers from”). Yes, I certainly am a person, and the disabilities can be added later, if relevant, but I’ll be the one who decides what I see relevant to include, and even for deciding what I suffer from. I could also describe myself as a screenreader user, or a braille aficionado, or a runner, or a knitter, or however I please. Or just with the name. My accessibility passions or medical history of my eyeballs isn’t always relevant to what I’m doing.

A big part of what is a disability is by culture. Let’s get rid of the medical models. The Deaf are a good example for this. A few decades ago they decided they are not handicapped or disabled, they are Deaf. It’s an identity. A sign language speaker, not a person that is broken and needs fixing. Now we need a similar revolution for other what used to be called handicaps. Many Autistic people are starting to get tired of being told how we are always wrong and should always do our best to blend in the neurotypical world. So there is change in the air: people are becoming more open about their neurodivergence issues. No more closet autism, or closet dyslexia. So instead of focusing on the failure to perform as the standardized human’s skills for the average age and sex as a problem to be fixed, it’s different when it’s seen from a different point of view. Dyslexic; so what? It comes with plenty of good sides for the brain and logic. Autistic; so what? It just means I think like an engineer, and don’t realize or care that I’m supposed to notice and compliment your haircut or new shirt or coo at those children that are screaming somewhere. Autistic, or dyslexic, or deaf or what have you, doesn’t mean you have to be seen as broken.

Some even try to use PFL where it sounds completely wrong. Person with blindness, or man with deafness. No. Please stop. Just say the word (blind, deaf, or other). Or skip it completely if it makes no difference to the context or action. Alice is a runner. That would be good enough, even if Alice wore blade legs for running. Jim is a software developer. Also good. Jim might also be deaf, or blind, or deafblind and autistic, and/or a wheelchair user. Do any of those details add anything useful or positive to the context? Inspiration porn is not useful, so listing a person’s disabilities when they do what everyone does in their life is not worth mentioning. Like when they eat, walk, work, live independently and so on. Of course when meeting in person, if it makes a difference, it’s ok to mention it. But try to do it nicer, and maybe use it as an ice breaker. “Sorry for not standing up…” with a big smile should suffice if you use a wheelchair. If you are a lipreader meeting new people, tell it. People might find it weird that you look at their mouth, or not notice you have problems hearing if it goes unsaid. If your eyes give less info than average… still trying to get this nailed down better. “I don’t have a very good facial memory.” doesn’t always suffice, as people will still start talking to you without introducing themselves the next time they see you. This of course will vary depending on how blind you look or don’t look like. Sigh. Ok, not ready to introduce myself or really any of the disability related things when meeting people for the first time. So I’ll just sit or stand there somewhere, silently, wearing dark shades, headphones, and a baseball cap, and somehow observe the people go by.


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