Content Notice: This post involves discussion of the debate over whether to use person first language or identity first language, including discussion of ableist reasons for mandatory person first language.
I am Autistic.
I am not a person with Autism.
I am Disabled.
I am not a person with disabilities.
I know that, to some people, those statements make no sense. After all, many people have been raised to believe that person first language is more respectful to Disabled people because it puts the focus on the person rather than their disability/disabilities. To acknowledge disability as a core part of a person’s identity while still viewing them as a person worthy of respect doesn’t always come naturally to people who have been raised to focus on the person while glossing over the disability.
Somehow, while being taught to emphasize the humanity of Disabled people, the idea was created that disability and personhood are mutually exclusive concepts; acknowledging disability as a defining feature of an individual became akin to saying that that individual was no longer a person - just a label. People who fight against the use of identity first language often honestly believe that the use of such language degrades Disabled people and reduces our identities as individuals. Nothing could be further from the truth.
When I say that I am Disabled I am not reducing myself to a label - I am embracing a personal and cultural identity that affects every aspect of my life.
Being Disabled affects how I perceive and interact with the society I live in, and, in turn, how members of that society perceive and interact with me. How I think, learn, communicate, and even how I move is connected to me being Disabled. Being Disabled colors my every experience. That’s not an arbitrary feature. It can’t be dismissed as a simple add-on, as something I have instead of something I am.
I don’t care how other people self-identify. If you choose to call yourself a person with a disability instead of a Disabled person that is entirely your choice. If, however, someone tells you that they prefer identity first language or you are speaking about a group that is known to prefer identity first language (ie: the Deaf and Autistic communities) then it isn’t your place to question that language preference, and it is in no way appropriate to ignore it.
The most respectful language choice is the one preferred by the person or group of people you’re talking about, regardless of whether or not it’s the one you’ve been taught to use.