Person-First Language vs. Identity-First Language

Person-First or People-First Language proponents claim that putting the person before the disability, indicates that a person experiences a challenge or disability, but that the challenge or disability does not define who they are. Instead of “cancer victim” we would use the phrase “person with cancer”; instead of “disabled person”, we would use “person with a disability.”

The problem is, many self-advocates in the neurodivergent community reject person-first language, and they are not alone. Blind and deaf self-advocates also tend to reject person-first language. Their rationale is that you cannot separate autism, blindness, or deafness from who they are and it is a source of positive identity and pride. In the English language, placing the adjective after the noun calls out more attention to it, as if you could somehow separate the two and that people would be “better off” without it. For this reason, many people prefer identity-first language such as “autistic person” or “blind person” or “deaf person”.

In the case of our family, in our point of view, sensory processing disorder and ADHD are things that you have and that you experience. We tend to go back and forth and use both because we also feel that person-first language can obfuscate how hard it is to get through the day sometimes.

Please note that in either case, everyone still prefers to be referred to as a person and if someone has a preference for person-first or identity-first language, to respect it.

Our goal is to use destigmatizing language and avoid terms or labels that are vague or imply that the condition is inherent to the group rather than the actual causal factors (in the case of terms like “marginalized” or “vulnerable”).

We are continually learning more ways to make the language we use more inclusive and always value constructive criticism. You can reach us at:

Further Reading / References:

Note: this article was originally published at and reposted here with permission.