The image shows the “Make the Right Real in Malaysia” logo of The OKU Rights Matter website and an image of two smiling brothers, the older with his right hand over the right shoulder of the younger one with spinal muscular atrophy and using a wheelchair.

Identity-first vs Person-first Language

Even trees need a friend. We all need friends. It all happens automatically. We want to use a lot pressure while using no pressure at all.

Identity-first vs Person-First Language

Which Do We Use to Refer to Persons with Disabilities?

Always ask the person or the community, and respect their preference.

However, if you do not have a chance to ask, please use the language preferred by the community’s majority.

Some communities prefer identity-first language, as they consider their disabilities as being fundamental to who they are as a person. The blind, Deaf and autistic communities prefer identity-first language.

Some communities prefer the person-first language, such as people with intellectual disabilities and people with mental health diagnosis.

The use of person-first or identity-first language is an ongoing important conversation that requires thoughtful and sensitive consideration.

People who use the person-first language, i.e., person with disability, do so to emphasise that they are first and foremost a person, and that their disability do not define them as a person.

Meanwhile, many disability advocates who prefer identity-first language explain that disability cannot be separated from who they are as a person; that disability does define how they live their everyday lives, and how that lived experience shapes their identity. Also, more importantly, disability is something that they should not be ashamed of.

When we look closely at the arguments from both sides, they have one thing in common: to “recognise, affirm, and validate an individual’s identity” as a person with disability, or disabled person.

The choice to use person-first or identity-first language to describe themselves is a personal one, which is influenced by each individual’s personal experience and reflection of their experience as a person with disability.

What is important is that we always respect their choice and use the words they prefer to describe themselves.

We can find out a person’s preference by noticing how they refer to themselves in conversations and writing, or ask them tactfully and as naturally as possible. Here are some tips from Emily Ladau:

The first time you engage with a disabled person, don’t just blurt out something like, ‘What do people like you want to be called?’ or ‘What should I call you?’ If it comes up naturally in conversation and you’re unsure, just say, ‘Do you prefer to be called ‘disabled,’ ‘person with a disability’ or something else?

Should I say ‘disabled person’ or ‘person with a disability’? by Mary Ann McColl in The Conversation

Identity-first vs. person-first language is an important distinction by Tara Haelle in Association of Health Care Journalists

I am Disabled: On Identity-First Versus People-First Language by Cara Liebowitz in The Body is Not An Apology

It’s Perfectly OK To Call A Disabled Person ‘Disabled,’ And Here’s Why by Brittany Wong in HuffPost

‘Autistic Person’ Or ‘Person With Autism’: Is There A Right Way To Identify People? by Molly Callahan in News@Northeastern

(Please note that the puzzle piece symbol used in the article’s graphics are not endorsed or supported by the autistic community)

Don’t Call Disabled People ‘Differently Abled’ by Carly Fox

Ableist Language to Avoid – includes a long list of words to use or avoid when describing persons with and without disabiltiies