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What terms should I use to describe disabilities?

What terms should I use to describe disabilities?

Published: Mar. 2, 2022Updated: Mar. 17, 2022

Language and terminology around disability is constantly evolving — and as parents, we're often unsure of what words to use when talking about our children’s disabilities. This becomes particularly important when we sit down to talk to our children about advocating for themselves.

Among disability communities in both activism and academia, there is an ongoing conversation regarding “person-first” vs. “identity-first” language. Person-first uses terms like “person with a disability” or “person with autism.” Identity-first language uses terms like “disabled person” or “autistic person.”

Neither of these practices is inherently better than the other. Undivided — along with the majority of media organizations — uses person-first terminology. In our case, we have chosen to do this particularly if a child or family’s preference is unknown.

At the end of the day, it’s a personal choice. Most people just want to be referred to by their name. As parents, what matters is that we acknowledge what our child is most comfortable with, and give them space and opportunities to learn from those who share their disabilities.

For more about this topic, see our article What We Talk About When We Talk About Disability.

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