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Watch Your “People First” Language 

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“Blind, Visually Impaired, Person with a Visual Impairment…..” So many choices in how one identifies themselves in the realm of disabilty. Same can go for those in wheelchairs. “Cripple” is the new “in” term for those who self identify with, but that term can get ugly when muttered in professional enviroments. I think “person with mobility issues” or “wheelchair user” buzz around my work more so than Harry Potter or Disney characters. it’s the fear of being rude, which although has good intentions, can seriously annoy one who goes through it every day. Honestly I think this debate is worse off than saying “Merry Christmas” over “Happy Holidays.” No matter how you word it, someone is bound to be offended.

To identify one based on disability alone is often looked down upon by the outside world. But for many, idenity is life. For example, people with Autism, at least many I know, cringe when they are labeled person first. Usually, “Autistic” is the way to go.

But where do I fit in with all this?

Oddly enough, I am one of the few with visual impairments that refers to themselves as “Legally Blind.” Very rarely do I pull out the person first card for a variety of reasons. 

  • It’s too much of a mouthful! – “Person with a Visual Impairment” to me makes a sentence in itself, literally and phonetically. It’s not a term that rolls off the tongue well. “Visual Impairment” as it’s “little sister term” to me seems demeaning, in a fluffy sort of way. That’s like calling a disabled person “handicapable” or a person with Down Syndrome “Up Syndrome.” (Although to each their own.) I call my disability like it is. I don’t sugar coat it. It’s sucky and it’s a pain, but it’s a part of me and who I am. 
  • It spikes conversation and in a ways, educates at the same time.– Legal Blindness is a term that covers the basics of a visually impaired person in terms of how great of an impact their disabilty is to them. In the eyes of the law, I am unable to drive and can collect benefits as needed, despite the fact I can “technically” see, although it’s still a debilitating condition. In coining the term “Legally Blind” it covers the basics and gives the outsiders a general idea of how impactful a disability can be.
  • Impaired is so passe – To call someone “impaired” to me sends the wrong kind of vibe, as it something is wrong with me…well, OK, there is, but that’s besides the point. To me, it seems like a term that limits a person more so than anything else. Impaired carries a negative stigma along with it and tends to scare people away. Blindness is blindness, might as well call it what it is. Nothing more, nothing less.

Now when it comes to other disabilities is when you get into some untouchable territory for me. The battle against the “R” word has spawned a million different ways to call a person with mental disabilities. “Developmentally disabled” works well in my circle over “Intellectual disabled” any day of the week. Although a small few still refer to themselves as “retarded” similar to those who still refer to themselves as “cripple” like some renegade cult of acceptance. To me, that sort of language falls into some “N” word like vibes, only people who identify as such can use it, but not others. I always found it weird when I worked Special Olympics one year in high school and some of the athletes bro fisted each other and called each other retard. Hey, more power to you if that’s how you roll (I guess?)

To me, when it comes to mental illness, it seems like the umbrella of terms gets smaller. Typically if I have to disclose myself, I am a “Person with Anxiety” or “Diagnosed with PTSD.” I have heard the term “Spoonie” mentioned in these circles but often, it lands in the “chronic illness” category. Since Spoonie is often used as a pet term for someone on medication, which I am no longer on because of insurance issues, I don’t see myself as that. Honestly in the real world, I keep that part of my life hidden if need be. But to my friends, I call it like it is. “I’m a hot mess” or to be blunt “I’m fucked up in the head.” 

My conditions are a part of me, and the only ones who should label me is myself. I will take my “hot mess” brain and my “legally blind” eyes over long lengthy demeaning jibber jabber anyday. 

Too often, people get freaked out on how one chooses to indentiy themselves, sometimes to the point of bickering or the worst case scenario, mollycoddling. A person shouldn’t feel sorry for what they label themselves. If you like person first and that’s how you see yourself, I’m totally fine with it, but to correct me for my terminology is crossing boundaries. Everyone has a right to call each other what they are, even if some don’t agree. They all have to take the time to learn from one another and respect each other, even if our terminology might not seem right in your eyes. I don’t care if you call yourself deaf, crippled, person with anxiety, retarded, intellectually delayed, or whatever floats your boat. As long as we are on common ground and you give me a perfered term, you’re perfect and nobody can change that label but yourself. 

But I think we can all agree on one thing for those from the outside of the disabled community. You don’t know what to call us, ask, never assume. A simple question can make all the difference. 


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