Person-First & Identity-First Language

A female wheelchair user sits in front of a laptop at a table in a cafe. She is smiling and waving to the screen, presumably introducing herself in a virtual meeting.

Person-First Language (PFL)

Person-first language, or PFL, gets its name because it places the person ahead of their disability diagnosis (“person with a disability,” “person with Down syndrome,” or “person with cerebral palsy”).

The People First Movement began in 1974 when the organizers of a convention on disabilities decided that they needed a name for themselves. A member of the committee mentioned that they were tired of being known for their disability, saying “I’m tired of being called retarded – we are people first.”

Since then, person-first language has been widely adopted in the fields of medicine, education, law, and beyond.

Identity-First Language (IFL)

Identity-first language (IFL) is preferred by some groups of people with disabilities, especially in groups where disability is a permanent and important part of a person’s identity. The Deaf, blind, and Autistic communities tend to prefer IFL.

Until recently, IFL was not formally recognized. This changed with updates to the American Psychological Association’s Inclusive Language Guidelines, which say:

Use person-first or identity-first language as is appropriate for the community or person being discussed. The language used should be selected with the understanding that disabled people’s expressed preferences regarding identification supersede matters of style.

A Note About this Site

This site uses person-first and identity-first language interchangeably.

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