PEOPLE FIRST, CONDITION SECOND
“Look at that cute downs baby”
“I had a downs kid in my class in high school”
“My friend has a downs child”
Nothing about the statements above seem particularly offensive to most people but if you really think about it they all make the CONDITION primary and the PERSON secondary. People with disabilities are people first and they have many other features that make them who they are – brown hair, green eyes, a resemblance to their father, a wicked sense of humor, a great pitching arm. When we use language to put their condition first we discount all of those other things that make them unique. Even if their difference is their most obvious feature it doesn’t mean that’s all they want to be known for. My hair is almost always frizzy but I don’t really want to be known as “the frizzy-haired woman”. I would hope you would talk to me and find out I’m also the woman with a terrible sense of humor (based mostly on puns) or the one who always uses the wrong emoji when sending text messages.
We would never in a million years say “that cancer kid” or “that diabetes guy”. We can identify that as inherently disrespectful and dehumanizing. It’s the same with any other condition. For example, Down syndrome is not the first thing you would ever see about my daughter, Julia Grace. Most people remark on her blue eyes or her ready smile or her silly noises. That’s what makes her Julia Grace, not her Down syndrome. So, the next time you want to refer to someone with a difference or disability make sure you ask yourself, am I putting the PERSON first? Or, better yet don’t even say “that baby with Down syndrome” at all. Instead say “that funny (silly, sweet, blue-eyed, cute…) baby, Julia Grace.”