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Person-first language is
a wonderful way to ensure inclusion, freedom, and respect for persons with handicapableness the latest in the lineup of politically correct ways to either respect or patronize disabled people.
How it works
When referring to disabled people, with specific regard to their disability, one is supposed to preface any mention of said disability with the mention of the fact that they are people, and also not mention that they are actually disabled.
By this logic, there are two things wrong with the statement, "X is blind":
- It makes no mention of X's humanity, reducing them to their blindness. Modify: "X is a person with blindness."
- But this is still problematic since it harps on what is unusual about X, similar to how a person who cannot carry a tune in a bucket might harp on about not being a prima donna. Modify: "X is a person who sees with a dog and a white cane."
Examples of PFL
Some more substitutions:
|Original version||Person-first version|
|X is quadriplegic.||X is a person who has been diagnosed with a physical disability.|
|X is nonspeaking.||X is a person who communicates using a speech synthesizer.|
|X is brain-damaged.||X is a person who has a brain injury.|
|X is colored.||X is a person of color.|
|X is gay.||X is a person whose primary sexual attraction is towards people of the same sex.|
|X is smart.||X is a person whose intelligence is significantly above that of the general population.|
|X is a woo-meister.||X is a person who communicates using his large intestine.|
Who cares and who doesn't
Everybody is horrified at how disabled people are dehumanized by putting the name of their disability before the word "person" in a sentence — except, of course, disabled people themselves. The National Federation of the Blind has strongly rejected person-first language, as has the deaf community. Many autistic people  (but not all) also reject person-first language. People with mental disabilities do usually prefer person-first language:
For many people, using the following term "a person with a mental health challenge" is less threatening and more accepted. Some people prefer "a person with mental health life experiences". And some people prefer "a person with a mental health diagnosis" or "a person with a mental health disability". Others prefer "a person with a psychiatric disability" or "a person with lived experience". You should always ask what a person prefers first. Each person makes their own choice about how they want to self identify. When in doubt call the person by their name.
Those last two sentences probably are the most sensible approach anyway.
One of the reasons those who don't like person-first language give is that saying "person with Y" carries the implication that Y is something bad or undesirable, while many disabled people do not view Y quite so much that way. After all, "person-first language" is employed only with disabilities; while "blind person" is reworded as "person with blindness" (or "person with sight impairment"), no one refers to a gay person as "person with gayness" (and using such language would probably be interpreted as being very anti-gay). Besides, just saying Y saves words!
The Blind, Autistic, and Deaf communities think person-first language is BAD. (Get it?) They see nothing wrong with their disabilities, and don't believe that being different detracts from their humanity. Saying "person with deafness" or "individual who just so happens to be suffering from an affliction on the autism spectrum" would be seen as ridiculous and rather insulting.
Grammar rules affect community preferences and usage as well. Most people with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder prefer, or at least mainly use person-first language for the simple fact that saying "person with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder" makes a lot more grammatical sense than "Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder person". However, there are many who strongly object to person-first language, so people have found workarounds in order to be able to use identity-first language by doing things like using the acronym instead of the full name of the disability (ex. "ADHDer"), or changing the name of a disability from a noun to an adjective (ex. "anxious [person]" vs. "person with anxiety").
Americans are more likely to prefer person-first language, and British people are more likely to prefer identity-first language.
- Kathie Snow on "Person-first language"
- How to Write About Disability on wikiHow
- How Person-First Language can be Dehumanizing
- Why Person-First Language Doesn't Always Put the Person First
- Person First Language and Ableism
- People First Language Poster
- As Dave Barry would say, I am not making this one up. Political correctness often means ambiguity, especially in the phenomenon known as the euphemism treadmill.
- Deaf Culture, PEPN tipsheet
- An Introductory Guide to Disability Language and Empowerment
- How to Write About Disability - wikiHow