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Northwest Missouri State University


People First Language

Use People First Language in all University communications whether oral or written, formal or informal.

The examples below provide guidance on what terms to use and what terms and constructions to avoid when talking or writing about people with disabilities. It is not a comprehensive list. For an excellent, detailed description of People First Language, go to www.disabilityisnatural.com.

When in doubt about how to refer to a person diagnosed with a certain condition or physical or mental challenge, remember that People First Language is just that. Put the person first and the condition or diagnosis second.

Also, be specific. State the diagnosis. Do not imply that the condition is in any way an intrinsic part of someone's personality or character.

Here's an example of what not to write or say:

"Northwest has installed specially textured wheelchair ramps on all curbs and sidewalks so that blind people can feel them with their canes."

The phrase "blind people" not only makes the condition more important than the person; it implies that the condition is an intrinsic part of what makes these people human beings in the first place.

Here is the same statement recast in People First Language:

"Northwest has installed specially textured wheelchair ramps on all curbs and sidewalks so that people who use canes because of a visual impairment can walk safely across the campus."

Note that using PFL (acceptable on second reference) does not mean one has to resort to jargon or employ euphemisms. On the contrary, communicating in this manner emphasizes the very tools that every careful writer and speaker should master: precision, accuracy and a keen sense of humanity.

Here are some more examples:

Use: