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Person-First and Identity-First Language

Learn more about the use of person-first and identity-first language when communicating about people with disabilities. 

Person-first language emphasizes the person before the disability, for example “person who is blind” or “people with spinal cord injuries.” Identity-first language puts the disability first in the description, e.g., “disabled” or “autistic." Person-first or identify-first language is equally appropriate depending on personal preference. When in doubt, ask the person which they prefer.  

It is important to note that while person-first language is often used in more formal writing, many people with disabilities, particularly younger people, are choosing to use identity-first language. How a person chooses to self-identify is up to them, and they should not be corrected or admonished if they choose not to use person-first language.

Below are just a few examples of the appropriate use of people-first language.
Affirmative Phrases Negative Phrases
Person with an intellectual, cognitive, developmental disability Retarded, Mentally defective
Person who is blind, Person who is visually impaired The blind
Person with a disability The disabled, Handicapped
Person who is deaf The deaf, Deaf and dumb
Person who is hard of hearing Suffers a hearing loss
Person who has multiple sclerosis Afflicted by MS
Person with cerebral palsy CP victim
Person with epilepsy, Person with a seizure disorder Epileptic
Person who uses a wheelchair Wheelchair bound, Confined to a wheelchair
Person who has muscular dystrophy Stricken by MD
Person with a physical disability Crippled, Lame, Deformed
Person who is unable to speak, Person who uses synthetic speech Dumb, Mute
Person with a psychiatric disability Crazy, Nuts
Person who is successful, productive Has overcome his/her disability, Is courageous (when it implies the person has courage because of having a disability)
Person who is in recovery from a substance use disorder Addict

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