26 February, 2011

my crush on NOAH's person-first language page

I'm writing a very long post about person-first language and the fact that, although I prefer it, I think it's pretty annoying when people (usually non-disabled people) go around demanding that other people use it as though it's some kind of immediate key to respecting people with disabilities. In my opinion, all the arguments people use to try to prove that person-first language is inherently more accurate and respectful just end up making them sound like assholes. If I am really a "person first and a disability second," what does that mean? Does that mean people are supposed to be looking at a version of me where all the disabled parts of me have been scooped out and are floating along somewhere behind me? How are people supposed to relate to me when I have huge chunks missing? What kind of pressure does this put on me to avoid showing the parts of me that somehow aren't supposed to be part of my "personhood," and are supposed to be things I can detach?

I totally love person-first language and use it all the time while NOT feeling that it in any way should be taken literally when interacting with disabled people. This is why I have such immense love for the What Do You Call Me? page on the National Organization for Albinism and Hypopigmentation website. While it has a few instances of "person first and albinism second," the bulk of the page is devoted to talking about the pop culture image of an "albino," the way the word may be used to bully people, and, most importantly, what actual people with albinism feel about the word. Not surprisingly, opinions are mixed--some people see it as neutral, some people "reclaim" it, and some people feel uncomfortable or hurt when it is applied to them. After some discussion, the page arrives at this sort-of-conclusion:

To most in the albinism community, the term “person with albinism” will always be a kinder, gentler, less shocking term. Regardless of the context, the word “albino” can sometimes be an ugly, jolting word to many, especially when heard unexpectedly.

So, basically, it sounds better and doesn't call up a bunch of stereotypes. THANK YOU NOAH. It isn't necessary to imply that disability is some gross thing that has to be ignored, just to make the point that you shouldn't run around calling people a word that has a lot of stigma because it might make them feel bad.

For me, person-first language is about how things sound and feelings and implications; it's not right in any objective way, because that would be ridiculous.

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