December 5, 2009

People-First

Thanksgiving was great. Really great. It was not only relaxing to stay at home and have our wonderful family members drive in to see us, but it was a refreshing retreat into normalcy. We had a couple days vacation from therapy and just sat back and relaxed as relatives played with our kids. Our fantastic family members played with Chase just as they would any other baby. They were determined to teach him to crawl and even walk in the day or two they were around him! This completely laughable and unrealistic possibility was so wonderful because there was no sense of limits placed on Chase. Everyone was just so happy to be with him that no one even talked about the fact that he had Down syndrome. He was just a baby. Nothing more, nothing less. A beautiful, adorable, lovable, happy baby!

I have been wanting to post something about "people-first language" for a while, but was reminded about it once again while reflecting on our Thanksgiving holiday. To our family, Chase is just a cute little baby boy. He has his whole life in front of him, full of possibilities. He also happens to have Down syndrome. But his disability will not define who he is.

Here are the Guidelines from the National Down Syndrome Congress regarding people first terminology:

An individual with Down syndrome is an individual first and foremost. The emphasis should be on the person, not the disability. A person with Down syndrome has many other qualities and attributes that can be used to describe them.

Encourage people to use people-first language. "The person with Down syndrome", not "the Down syndrome person." A person with Down syndrome is not "a Downs".

Words can create barriers. Recognize that a child is "a child with Down syndrome," or that an adult is "an adult with Down syndrome." Children with Down syndrome grow into adults with Down syndrome; they do not remain eternal children. Adults enjoy activities and companionship with other adults.

It is important to use the correct terminology. A person "has" Down syndrome, rather than "suffers from," "is a victim of," "is diseased with" or "afflicted by."

Each person has his/her own unique strengths, capabilities and talents. Try not to use the clich├ęs that are so common when describing an individual with Down syndrome. To assume all people have the same characteristics or abilities is demeaning. Also, it reinforces the stereotype that "all people with Down syndrome are the same."

Here are some basic guidelines for using People First Language:

1. Put people first, not their disability* A "person with a disability", not a "disabled person"* A "child with autism", not an "autistic child"

2. Use emotionally neutral expressions* 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

3. Emphasize abilities, not limitations* A person "uses a wheelchair", not "wheelchair-bound"* A child "receives special education services", not "in special ed"

4. Adopt preferred language* 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"

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