If you are not Disabled and you are demanding the use of Person First Language (PFL), you are being ableist.
If you are Disabled and you are demanding that other Disabled people use Person First Language, you are being ableist.
If you are Disabled and want to use Person First Language when referring to yourself, I will respect that. I will also respect your right to demand that other people use Person First Language when referring to you.
But the Person First Language concept is ableist, and I can tell you why.
I do know the history of PFL. I also know that it was co-opted by non-disabled people who believe they are the authorities in what we should say and how we should identify ourselves. And that is the definition of ableism.
Proponents of PFL have some “explanations” for why everyone should use this language, and such explanations fail in every way.
The first one is:
“See the person, not the disability”.
I want to quote Lawrence Carter-Long because, as proud disabled, we don’t feel ashamed of our disabilities. He said:
“If you “see the person not the disability” you’re only getting half the picture. Broaden your perspective. You might be surprised by everything you’ve missed. DISABLED. #SayTheWord”
So, deconstructing the “explanations”.
“See the person, not the disability”.
I want to debunk the notion that by using PFL society treats us better. If anything, it helps with the stigmatization of Disabled people. Instead of “seeing” us, society ignores us, we become “voiceless” and “invisible”. There: debunked. But there is more.
Do you, PFL proponent, really see me (only me) and not my disability?
If your answer is yes, you are being ableist because you ignore an important part of me. If you ignore my disability, how are you being an ally – as you claim – and how are you going to support me (and all Disabled people) when we demand to be heard?
If you insist that you will support us, and continue to use PFL, you are being ableist because I (and many others) already said that respecting us means listening to our preferences, instead of demanding that everyone uses a language that we reject. You make it all about you, your preferences, your choices. How is this respecting me (and all Disabled people)?
Then there is the other explanation:
“You are much more than your disability”.
I cannot argue with the statement itself but I will deconstruct the reasons why you use it.
I am Disabled.
I am Autistic.
I am female.
I am awesome (according to my friends).
So you, PFL proponent, is probably “correcting” me and saying: you are “a person with a disability”; “you have autism”.
If you stand by this language, why don’t you say that I am a person with femaleness? After all, I am more than just female. Why don’t you say that I am a person with awesomeness? I am more than just awesome, too.
I will spare you the time to try – and fail – to explain your PFL usage. You will try to say that a disability does not define me. How do you know it doesn’t? I define myself and my disability does define me. You are being ableist by telling me how I should feel about being Disabled.
Or maybe you don’t think awesome people are people? Absurd, isn’t it?
The reason is clear: you see disability as something that makes us less valuable, something broken, something not quite right.
You use Identity First Language for the things you consider positive. Disability, to you, is negative. This is ableism.
If you still try to explain yourself, you are doubling down on the ableism because you are not listening, and you are silencing us.
Now, if you start using PFL when referring to everyone, then I will join you: for example: “you are a person with femaleness that has a lot of awesomeness, a lot of smartness. Are you a person with religiousness?”
Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? Made my point. PFL is ableist AND ridiculous.
There is another “explaining” I hear a lot:
“PFL is the acceptable/official/used everywhere language”.
Acceptable to whom? This is the greatest example of PFL as ableist language. It is silencing. It says non-disabled people are the ones who know what is “better” for Disabled people. It says that we, Disabled people, are non-persons who cannot define ourselves. It makes the choices of non-disabled people for disabled people, “official”. PFL is not acceptable to me, and it is not acceptable to a lot of Disabled people. If you claim to be an ally, if you claim to use PFL because you respect us as people, you are NOT respecting us.
If you insist in using PFL because you don’t want to create “controversy” and defy the ableist society, if you use PFL because it is more comfortable to you, you shouldn’t claim to be an ally or advocate.
If you continue to use PFL after we asked you, after we told you we want Identity First Language, you are ableist, you are silencing us, and you are not an ally.
If you continue to use PFL claiming that this is the only way you will get heard and advocate for us, feel free to stop your advocacy in my name. You are being an ableist and I don’t want an ableist ally.
#SayTheWord. The word is DISABLED