IDENTITY FIRST VS PERSON FIRST LANGUAGE

"During the late 1980’s and 90’s in America, amidst several other aggressive social reforms to create a more equitable society, “Person First Language” (PFL) emerged as a countermeasure for derogatory thinking embedded in language referring to persons with disabilities." Using Person First Language means always stating "person" before naming the disability. For example, saying "person with autism" or "they have autism". Its intention is to create respectful and appropriate means of naming disability by separating someone's personhood from their disability, to emphasizes that someone "has" a disability and is not singularly defined by it. 

Conversely, "Identity First Language (IFL) is founded upon the idea of the social model of disability. In a nutshell, the social model says that though impairments (diagnostic, medical conditions) may limit someone in some ways, it is the inaccessibility of society that actually disables someone and renders them unable to function". While PFL was revolutionary in its origin, advocates for Identity First Language today argue that the concept of PFL is rooted in ableism because it implies "that “disability”, “disabled”, or "autistic" are negative, derogatory words" and that "PFL essentially buys into the stigma it claims to be fighting". 

 

IFL emphasizes that someone's disability is a fundamental and inextricable part of their identity. "In this ideology, “disabled” (or "Autistic") is a perfectly acceptable way for a person to identify and there is no need to go out of your way to disassociate a person from a part of them, which shapes who they are and thus cannot possibly be separated from them". Additionally, Autism is often seen as its own identity, culture, and community amongst Autistic people and, therefore, references should be semantically the same as it is for other identifiers of identity, such as Jewish or Asian. While an Autistic person also has other identities, autism is the filter through which all other identities are experienced. 

 

It continues to be a debated topic about whether to use Person First Language or Identity First Language. Everyone has the right and freedom to decide how they want to be identified. Some communities and individuals prefer one over the other, others are open to both, so it is important that you do not make assumptions or generalities. Always work to be informed and be respectful of individual choice.

 

Most Autistic individuals use Identity First Language, but this is not always true for any one individual. If you don't know their preference, default to IFL. We will use both throughout our website and in our day to day conversations, we will allow space for both and respect the way an individual chooses to identify.