Person First?


Here’s a really great commentary on the use of “person first” language:

i didnt even see the shadows til the writer mentioned them. Not a fan of this graphic or it’s message.
Too often people tell me “but I don’t see your disability!” and “I don’t think of you as disabled!”. That’s troubling for me because, well, hi denial! But it also makes assumptions about what i have going on. People assume they know what my “disability” is, what it contains, and they’re wrong. For starters, i have disabilitIES, and they are varied. Because there exists this one manifestation that most people can understand and recognize as somehow officially Disabled(tm) (i.e. being on wheels) doesn’t mean they have any understanding of what’s going on for me.

So they have this recognition that there’s disability going on, yet they find it important to tell me that they will erase my reality as a gimp, at least for the duration of our interaction.

Why? Because underneath all the “I don’t see disability” talk, they do see it and they think it’s shameful, sad, pathetic, embarrassing, however it is they are interpreting their personal fear about my experience, and they likely imagine i feel those things too, and they want to be on the same page. Even though, clearly, we will never be.


If using person first language helps you to work on your recognition of disabled folks as human, i suppose that’s important work, so keep it up. Just don’t insist i use it. If yer also disabled, please don’t insist i use the same language you use to describe myself. If you want to challenge your ideas around this stuff, or just want to be a generally respectful person, ask me what i prefer.
It won’t hurt, promise!

Also, just to add…
i want you to see me, and that includes my disabilities. If you look at me and tell me you “don’t see” my disabilities, you are telling me you “don’t see” me. Because while i am not only my disabilities, they’re a huge and integral part of my lived reality. And if you refuse my lived reality, well, we won’t have too much to talk about now will we?

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2 thoughts on “Person First?

  1. Hey there:

    One of my disabilities is epilepsy. A few years ago, I met a woman with epilepsy who was absolutely appalled that I say “I have epilepsy” instead of using person first language. She actually berated me for it for ten minutes. That was the last time we hung out together ever. Which actually wasn’t easy for a bit, since we’re both in the queer disabled community, and that’s not huge here.

    But I realized later why it bugged me so much, policing aside. I have epilepsy, and it took me years to HAVE it well in hand, thank you very much. Years in high school of having seizures when I would forget my meds because I was trying to learn to take them on my own instead of depending on my mom. Years of figuring out how to explain myself to paramedics, teachers, bosses at jobs, and so many other people with power over me of one sort or another. And I’m still not entirely done unpacking the nuances of how much my first seizure medication messed with all the different areas of my life, including my ability to learn and retain in school.

    So, don’t bother me with person first language around my epilepsy, thanks. It took a lot of wrestling, but I HAVE my epilepsy in hand, than you very much!

    Now, I do feel like a “person with” HNPP and Fibromyalgia, because both of those popped up in the last two years. I’m not done fighting with them, running my head into the walls of the boundaries, and learning to navigate the world as they affect it yet.

    Thanks for letting me vent here. It’s just something that hit me today reading your posts and a couple others about disabilities and how the TAB world relates to us.

    • SeaLinc2, i really love how you just laid it out. im a huge fan of folks defining for their own selves the words they use to describe themselves and their own experiences, and when we just talk with each other about those choices instead of placing all this pressure and expectation, there’s so much there.
      Thanks for taking the time to share this :)

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