Person-First Language: Its Meaning and Use in Education

Person-first language promotes positivity and respect. Learn about its meaning and importance in educational contexts — Noodle has compiled the necessary resources to help you implement this change.

There are many terminology questions in the world of education: should you say learning disability or learning difference? What are different learning styles? What’s an IEP, and what’s a 504? How we use of some of these terms can be a matter of preference, while others can have a legal impact on your child’s education.

One issue that has strong interpersonal and professional consequences is whether to call someone “learning disabled” or a “person/child with a learning disability.” The latter phrase is an example of using "person-first language" in an educational setting. It means you put the person/child first, and it represents best practice in the education and health care fields.

Why should you use person-first language, too?

How we use words demonstrates what we think, and it influences what others think. Use person-first language to “promote understanding, respect, dignity and positive outlooks.”

Still confused? Here’s an excellent list of examples of person-first language from Disability is Natural. It includes the phrases you should use, the replaced phrases (on the right), and has resources in Spanish, Portuguese, and Russian.

Sources:

Folkin, J. Resource on Person-First Language: The Language Used to Describe Individuals With Disabilities (1992). ASHA Publications Board.

Let’s put the person first, not the disability! Disability is Natural.

People First Language. Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities.

What is People First Language? The Arc.

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