People First Language

People First Language is a very simple concept: People are human beings first before they are people with disabilities. It is essential that you look beyond the "labeling" of the child's disability and avoid creating or reinforcing negative stereotypes. When speaking it is important to remember that a person is always a person first.

Using terms like "retarded" or "handicapped" categorizes the individual as having only that characteristic and ignores many positive ones. Avoid conveying a status rather than a characteristic. For example, it is acceptable to say "He has a learning disability," rather than "He is learning disabled." Always put the person before the disability in sentence construction.  

Also remember:

  • Focus on the person as an individual.
  • Don't place unfair limitations on the person.
  • Raise the self-esteem of the person with a disability, so the person can see past his/her own "label."
  • Treat people with dignity and respect.  Listen to that person.  Show them that what they have to say is important.
  • Provide the person with positive role models, by being one.
  • Let the person make his or her own decisions or choices when possible.
  • Let the person know that their goals are limitless.  Empower them to shoot for the stars!


Examples of People First Language:


Say this:

Instead of saying:


Confined to a wheelchair

Needs support


A child with cerebral palsy

Cerebral Palsied

A child with autism


A child with ADHD





Victim - unless a person was injured in a plane, train, or automobile or is the target of a crime, then they are not victim.

Poor/Unfortunate - these words are very offensive; DON"T USE THEM!

Funding for this program provided by the Department of Health and Human Services