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Person First Language – Write it Right 

Person First Language – Write it Right 

Person first language in the field of special education and learning support is becoming a more heavily discussed topic and rightly so (3). The old saying ‘sticks and stones can break my bones but words will never hurt me’ is well known now to be completely untrue. Words can hurt and the language we use can be a very powerful tool in shaping the way we think about ourselves and others (3).

What is Person First Language (PFL)?

Person First is about separating and acknowledging a person before their diagnosis, disorder or disability by stating their name, title or pronoun first (3). Identity-first is when you identify a person’s diagnosis, disorder or disability first before their name or pronoun.

Here are some examples of Person-first vs Identity-first (3).

Sarah has a diagnosis of ADHD and is… My ADHD student Sarah is..
The students with dyslexia are getting..The dyslexics are getting…
Thomas has Autism Spectrum Disorder and often..Autistic Thomas often…

Not Right for Everyone

There are people with disorders of the brain such as autism or Asperger’s syndrome as well as  people with physical disabilities such as those within the blind or deaf community who do not feel the need to separate themselves from their diagnosis (1).

They are very proud of who they are and feel strongly that this element is an integral part of them (1).

Person First Language - Identifying Words
Person first words

They prefer to refer to themselves or have their family state for example that they are autistic or they are blind instead saying that of that they are just living with autism or blindness (1).

It is important to keep this in mind when working alongside someone with a diagnosis however is it considered respectful to use and put a person’s name first unless instructed to do otherwise by the person with the disability or their family(1).

Speak With Respect and Dignity

In order to show respect and dignity to all it is also important to monitor your tone of voice, facial expression and the language you choose to use in relation to people with a diagnosis.
Using certain language can be extremely offensive and upsetting for some people.

The language that should be avoided includes(3):

– suffering with

– a victim of

– a hero

– disease instead of a disorder

– ‘tragically’ diagnosed

Diversity is in Everyone

Unfortunately, people can be unfairly judged, spoken about in a negative way or intentionally or unintentionally excluded from certain opportunities in life due to their diagnosis(4). We all have different abilities whether that be physical, emotional, or personality types. Everyone should be accepted, included and have their strengths not just their weaknesses highlighted(4).

Each person can bring different knowledge, perspectives, ideas or understanding to a situation(2). Our differences although at times can cause challenges should also be celebrated as that is what makes each of us who we are. Diversity is what truly drives innovation and creativity(2) !

The Wrap Up

In order to remain respectful and create a more inclusive world, it is often best to acknowledge a person by their name or title before their diagnosis unless otherwise instructed to. Always think about the wording you use to describe others at all times(3). Ask yourself: Did I #writeitright

Brydie Tancred
Written by Brydie Tancred  
Bachelor of Education (K-6 Teaching). Master of Education (Special and Inclusive Education) In Progress. 
Jessica Robinson
Edited by Jessica Robinson 
Bachelor of International Studies. Master of Occupational Therapy.

1. Botha, M., Hanlon, J. and Williams, G., 2021. Does Language Matter? Identity-First Versus Person-First Language Use in Autism Research: A Response to Vivanti. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders,.

2. Riccucci, Norma. (2021). Disability and Diversity in the Workplace. 10.4324/9781003176534-8.

3. Snow, K., 2022. Person First Language. [online] Available here [Accessed 14 April 2022].

4. Thompson, D., Fisher, K., Purcal, C., Deeming, C. and Sawrikar, P., 2012. Community Attitudes to People with Disability: Scoping Project. SSRN Electronic Journal,.