The Problem with Person‐first Language

Published: Nov 17, 2018

I can’t stand Person‐first language. It’s fluffy, meaningless language that serves to only hide the views and needs of disabled people under a thin veneer of inclusivity.

I have been told that I should use more person‐first language when discussing my disability and how it affects my life. That my disability is something I have not something I am. That I should be see myself as a person first and disabled second.


Every morning I wake up, my wheelchair is the first thing I see. When I get out of bed, my brain is calculating the safest way for my to shift my limp limbs into my seat cushion without hitting the floor. As I roll to the bathroom, I’m reminded of how I need to put air in my tires and that my casters need cleaning.

Abled‐bodied people keep telling me that person‐first language is the lens I should be looking through, but they refused to acknowledge that my disability is a lens I can’t look away from.

The benefits of person‐first language are temporary, at best. My coworkers might see me as just another member of the team, but when we all walked to that new restaurant only to discover stairs at the entrance, I guarantee that “person‐first” wasn’t how they were seeing me. And when business owners are confronted about the lack of accessibility, they’re quick to place disability ahead of personhood when making excuses:

disabled people aren’t really my customer base”

“If more disabled people wanted to use my store, I’d make it accessible.”

“We have separate facilities to accommodate the disabled.”

Stop asking disabled people to be “person‐first” while simultaneously refusing to acknowledge our disability in a way that makes us feel like people.