People First Language in 2011

Tags: Carton Donofrio children with disabilities Mara Kaplan Mark Twain People first language Playworld Systems Sales r-word Rose Communications

“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.”  Mark Twain


Last week, Playworld Systems hosted its annual national sales meeting in Lewisburg, PA.  During the three-day event, I had the opportunity to meet with many Playworld Systems employees and distributors.  Many of my discussions focused on the importance of “People First Language.”

People First Language recognizes individuals with disabilities as people, first and foremost.  It emphasizes each person’s value, individuality, dignity and capabilities.  Kathie Snow, who is the leading advocate for People First Language, says, “People First Language is not about ‘political correctness,’ it’s about good manners. Words do matter! They can raise or lower expectations; hurt or help; crush hopes or create dreams; and so much more.”

Examples of proper People First Language include:

Use: an individual with a disability                  Instead of the: The disabled or the handicapped

Use:  a person with autism                             Instead of: autistic person

Use: a person who uses a wheelchair            Instead of: wheelchair-bound person

You can learn much more about People First Language at Disability is Natural and from the Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities.

The people at Playworld Systems have embraced the use of respectful and dignified terms while addressing the needs of people with disabilities.  They’ve also incorporated that thinking into marketing and sales materials. For example, Playworld System’s PR team from Rose Communications and Carton Donofrio Partners, Playworld Systems’ ad agency participated in the training to ensure all media materials incorporate People First Language.  The ripple effect of this is that both agencies now use this language with other clients.

One of the most insulting words in the disability world is “retard” or “retarded” as in “you retard” or “that was so retarded.”  When “mental retardation” and “mentally retarded” were originally introduced, they were medical terms. This has changed.  Now you often hear “retard” and “retarded” (“r-words”) used as synonyms for “dumb” or “stupid” by people without disabilities. This only reinforces painful stereotypes of people with intellectual disabilities as being less valued members of society.

The appropriate language is “a person with an intellectual or developmental disability.”

We all know that on playgrounds all around the country, there are children who use the “r-word” in inappropriate and cruel ways.  That is why during this week, when there is a special emphasis being made “To Spread the Word to the End the Word,” Playworld Systems is strongly encouraging everyone to sign the pledge that says:

“I pledge and support the elimination of the derogatory use of the ‘r-word’ from everyday speech and promote the acceptance and inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities.”

You can make your pledge online at the “r-word—spread the word, to end the word” .

I have pledged, have you?


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