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People First Language Style Guide

A reference for media professionals and anyone who uses words

What is People First Language?
"People First" Language (also referred to as "Person First") is an accurate way of referring to a person with a disability in spoken or written word.

This style guide offers an alphabetical list of standard terms that focus on the person instead of the disability.

This is not a complete list, but is a general representation of terms that people with disabilities commonly find respectable.

Why People First Language?
Words and how they are used shape attitudes.

Incorporating People First Language into the written and spoken word demonstrates that people are unique and their abilities or disabilities are part of who they are, not a definition of who they are.

People First Language is sensitive and accurate and helps break down community barriers. It also fosters mutual respect and open lines of communication and acceptance.

The change had long been advocated for in Ohio by individuals with disabilities and their families. Ohio's legislators passed Senate Bill 79 in July 2009 and its companion house bill in June 2009 supporting the name change. Ohio Governor Strickland signed the bill into law effective October 2009.

ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) involves learning and behavioral problems that do not have any serious underlying physical or mental causes and is characterized especially by difficulty in sustaining attention, impulsive behavior, and excessive activity.
DO USE: child with ADHD

DON'T USE: hyperactive
Autism is a mental disability originating in infancy that may be character¬ized by absorption in self-centered subjective mental activity, especially when accompanied by marked withdrawal from reality, inability to interact socially, repetitive behavior, and language dysfunction.
DO USE: child with autism, child who has autism, person living with autism
DON'T USE: autistic

Blindness occurs when a person has loss of vision for ordinary life purposes.
DO USE: person who is visually impaired, person with visual impairments, boy who is blind
DON'T USE: blind, the blind, blind person
Brain injury is a long-term or temporary disruption in brain function result¬ing from injury to the brain. Difficulties with cognitive, physical, emotional, and/or social functioning may occur.
DO USE: person who has a brain injury, woman who has sustained a brain injury, or boy with an acquired brain injury
DON'T USE: brain damaged, suffers from brain damage, victim of brain damage

Deafness is a profound hearing loss that results in development of language skills - often American Sign Language - that are different from those devel¬oped by individuals who have hearing.
DO USE: (ask the person who is being written or talked about)
DON'T USE: (ask the person who is being written or talked about)
Developmental disability is a mental or physical disability that occurs at birth or in infancy where one or more major life activities is limited indefinitely.

DO USE: individual with: a disability, autism, epilepsy, a brain injury, etc.
DON'T USE: retarded, disabled, handicapped, autistic, epileptic, brain damaged

Disability is a general term used for a functional limitation that interferes with a person's ability, for example, to walk, lift, hear, or learn, and may be physical, sensory, or mental.

DO USE: person with a disability
DON'T USE: handicapped, the mentally or physically disabled, special, retarded, mental retardation

Down syndrome describes a chromosomal irregularity that results in a delay in physical, intellectual and language development.

DO USE: person with Down syndrome
DON'T USE: Mongol, Mongoloid, Down's baby

Learning disability is anything permanent that affects the way a person takes in, retains and expresses information.
DO USE: child with a learning disability, child who has a learning disability
DON'T USE: slow, slow learner, retarded

Mental retardation refers to some degree of intellectual delay, which can range from mild to profound depending on the cause. Individuals may live completely or partially independent with support. This term is no longer accepted and should not be used.

DON'T USE: retarded, slow, the retarded, abnormal

Post-polio syndrome is a condition that affects persons who have had poliomyelitis (polio) long after recovery from the disease.

DO USE: person with post-polio syndrome
DON'T USE: polio victim

Psychiatric disability - psychotic, schizophrenic, neurotic, and other specific terms should be used only in proper clinical context and should be checked carefully for medical and legal accuracy.

DO USE: psychiatric disabilities, psychiatric illness, emotional disorders, mental disorders

DON'T USE: crazy, maniac, lunatic, demented, schizo, psycho

Seizure is an involuntary muscular contraction or a brief impairment or loss of consciousness resulting from something neurological like epilepsy, or from brain injury.

DO USE: person who has a seizure disorder, person who had a seizure
DON'T USE: fit, spastic, epileptic

Small/short stature describes people under 4'10" tall. Groups who focus on this issue are divided between using "little people" and "dwarfs", because some are offended by those terms and some are not.

DO USE: ask the person who is being written or talked about
DON'T USE: midget

Speech disorder is when a person has limited or difficult speech patterns.

DO USE: person who has a speech disorder
DON'T USE: mute, dumb

Spinal cord injury occurs when there has been permanent damage to the spinal cord. Quadriplegia is a substantial or significant loss of function in all four extremities. Paraplegia refers to substantial or significant loss of func¬tion in the lower part of the body only.

DO USE: person with a spinal cord injury, person who has quadriplegia or paraplegia
DON'T USE: quadriplegic, paraplegic

Stroke is caused by interruption of blood to the brain. Hemiplegia (paraly¬sis of one side) may result.

DO USE: person who had a stroke
DON'T USE: stroke victim

Thanks to Advocacy in Media (AIM), a subcommittee of Community Ambassadors Resource Alliance, and Hamilton County Developmental Disabilities Services for the content of this Media Guide.

PF Language Tips

Different groups object to different phrases for varying reasons. Even among people with disabilities and their families, different terms are used and accepted. It is best to ask the person you are speaking or writing about which words or phrases are acceptable to them personally.

When writing or speaking about people with disabilities, it is preferable to emphasize abilities rather than limitations, focusing on a person's accomplishments, creative talents or skills.

It is not preferable to avoid mentioning a person's disability or describing the impact it has had on the person's life. It is preferable to refer to the person and the disability he or she happens to have respectfully and accurately.

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