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Person-first terminology

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Person-first terminology is a linguistic technique used when discussing disabilities to avoid perceived and subconscious dehumanisation of the people involved. Its use is controversial in a small number of contexts.

The technique is to use the term "person with a disability", putting the person first, rather than "disabled person", which puts the disability first. The word ordering carries implications about which part of the phrase is more important. Many people with disabilities have expressed unease at being described using person-second terminology, seeing it as devaluing them as people with the implication that the most significant thing about them is their disability. Person-first terminology is therefore preferred in the discussion of most disabilities.

Person-first terminology is widely rejected by deaf and autistic people. People with these two conditions generally see their condition as an important part of their identity, and so prefer to be described as "deaf people" and "autistic people" rather than "people with deafness" and "people with autism". In a reversal of the rationale for person-first terminology, these people see person-first terminology as devaluing an important part of their identity and falsely suggesting that there is somewhere in them a person distinct from their condition. Notably, these two conditions have extensive effects on language use, leading to significant subcultures, the Deaf community and the autistic community. These features are not shared with most other conditions that are commonly considered disabilities.

Among most groups of disability rights activists in the United States, person-first terminology is not preferred because it is perceived as a euphemism, and people will often refer to themselves and each other as disabled people. Among disability rights activists in the United Kingdom who adhere to the social model of disability, person-first language is not used because it locates disability within the individual person. Social model adherents believe that while impairment, the differences between human bodies, may be located within the individual person, it is not the cause of disability, which is due to oppression of people with certain kinds of impairments. Since person-first terminology is located within the medical model of disability, social model adherents reject it.

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