ICBioethics Blog 

Putting People First

Written by: Barbara Postol

Disabilities are like people: they come in all shapes and sizes and in total about 50 million Americans have a form of a disability. That is about one in five Americans, making it quite common. The same can be said of many forms of mental illness. Each year, it is estimated that one in four Americans meet criteria for a mental health diagnosis, and many of these illnesses are disabling.

In the US, mental health disorders are the primary cause of disability. Some disabilities can be seen and others can be invisible. When we consider people with disabilities, mental or physical, it is critical that we remember the person behind the disability first and foremost.

Working in healthcare it is not uncommon to hear phrases such as, “He’s schizophrenic”, “She’s in a wheelchair” or “That’s an ADHD kid.” While intention may be lacking, this type of language is dehumanizing and hurtful. Nobody would say “she is a broken leg”, but rather, “she has a broken leg.” There is a distinction. To avoid language that defines people by their disability people first language should be used.

“He has schizophrenia” is an example of people first language vs. “he’s schizophrenic. People come first, their disability does not. Think about it, living with a disability is just one aspect of that person’s life. People with disabilities are much more than that disability which is why it must be reflected in language.  Some examples of people first language include:

She’s a kid with ADHD.

He’s a person who uses a wheelchair.

He’s a person who has schizophrenia.

The changes are simple and very meaningful when communicating about different forms of disabilities. — Remember to put people first!

Mitch GennusoComment