**This post was originally written on 10/12/2013**
Person first language....It is SO important! I get it, no one wants to have someone else telling them how they can talk or how they should talk or what is "politically correct." Most of the time we say things without even realizing that we are offending someone. We don't mean to be insensitive. We don't mean to come off sounding like a jerk or sounding degrading to another human being. But the truth is, words have the power to either help, or hurt, another human being. And out of respect for others, I think it's important to educate ourselves and be aware of the things that are coming out of our mouths. It's one thing to say something hurtful or offensive and not realize that you are even doing it, but to be educated about how it is disrespectful to certain people and still go on being offensive, is not okay.
Person first language is important to all individuals with different abilities, not just individuals with Down syndrome. But because I am blogging about Down syndrome, this post is geared more toward person first language and individuals with Down syndrome.
A baby born with Down syndrome is not a "Down's baby," or a "baby with Down's". Just like a child or adult with Down syndrome is not a "Down's child" or "Down's adult." When describing a person with Down syndrome, always place the person before the disability. This emphasizes the person first and the disability second. For instant, a baby (child/adult) with Down syndrome.
I'm sure you have heard both; Down syndrome and Down's syndrome. The correct wording is Down syndrome. No 's' after Down and the 's' on syndrome is not capitalized. Dr. John Langdon Down provided the first formal description of the syndrome, but he himself did not have Down syndrome. Therefore, no possessive is used in the word Down, but it is capitalized because it was named after Dr. Down.
Individuals with Down syndrome do not "suffer" from Down syndrome, nor are they "afflicted" by Down syndrome. An individual with Down syndrome simply "has" Down syndrome.
Down syndrome is a chromosomal disorder that is present at conception. Using the term "birth defect" or "disease" in relation to Down syndrome is incorrect. There is no known cure for Down syndrome, so these terms are inaccurate.
Avoid generalizing people with Down syndrome as 'always loving', 'always smiling', or 'always happy'. People with Down syndrome are not all alike. The diversity of abilities and characteristics among individuals with Down syndrome can be best described as the same for the general population.
When talking about a person with Down syndrome and their peers, instead of referring to their peers as "normal", use the word "typical" instead.
Overall, person first language emphasizes respect for the individual. If mentioning Down syndrome is not relevant to the conversation, why even bother bringing it up at all? A child is a child first, way more than a label!
**Some other basic guidelines for using People First Language, provided by the National Down Syndrome Congress, are:
- A “person with a disability”, not a “disabled person”
- A “child with autism”, not an “autistic child”
- A person “with” cerebral palsy, not “afflicted with” cerebral palsy
- An individual who had a stroke, not a stroke “victim”
- A person “has” Down syndrome, not “suffers from” Down syndrome
- A person “uses a wheelchair”, not “wheelchair-bound”
- A child “receives special education services”, not “in special ed”
- A “cognitive disability” or “intellectual disability” is preferred over “mentally retarded”
- “Typically developing” or “typical” is preferred over “normal”
- “Accessible” parking space or hotel room is preferred over “handicapped”