Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Person First Language

I have a tendency to email people employed by mass media companies when they do not use person first language. After emailing a well known online special education website about an error they made I recieved the following response:

I have been thinking about your letter. I basically agree with you and use people first language most of the time. As a person who has been in this field for a long time and a person with a learning disability myself, I am painfully aware of the problems that come from oppressive language.
However, the title "Tips for Choosing a Summer Camp for Your Child with a Learning Disability" seemed confusing and awkward when I wrote it. And we don't use people first language with other targeted groups- we say "woman" not "person who is female." When we talk about race, we say "black person" rather than "person who is black" and "white person" rather than "person who is white." In the English language, we usually put the adjective first and understand that it modifies a noun and doesn't define the person.
The history and experience of oppression for people who have disabilities is harsh, so I tend to agree with you. It's just that editorially it doesn't always work.
Your letter will make me think harder, however, the next time a similar situation arises.

Thank you for writing.
Mr. Yellow

My response is as follows:

Dear Mr. Yellow,

You do have an interesting point although I don't typically refer to people by the color of their skin either.

White, Female, Non-Disabled Person

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