Using people first language

One of the easiest ways you can support DSAQ and people with Down syndrome is by modelling correct language in the community.

Language is one the most powerful tools we have, however it’s value is often not considered. Perhaps the biggest barriers to people with disabilities are the societal attitudes that still exist, based on outdated stereotypes, so it is important to consider the potential power of language in changing these attitudes.

At DSAQ we firmly believe in the use of People First language and we encourage you to join us in modeling correct language to the people around you. People First language is based on a concept that we are all familiar with – that people with disabilities are people first and foremost. For example, a person may have Down syndrome, but they may also have brown hair, green eyes, a wicked sense of humour and write great poetry. None of these characteristics alone defines a person so we choose not to use language that makes that suggestion.

The most common argument against carefully considering the language you use when speaking of people with disabilities is ‘it’s just political correctness’ or ‘but I don’t mean it in a negative way’. Using appropriate language, however, is a means of removing stereotypes and ensuring everyone is treated with respect. It enables us to use the social power of language to change community attitudes and positively influence the way people with Down syndrome are perceived.

The following examples of words to avoid and acceptable alternatives are contained in a booklet produced by the Department of Communities titled – ‘A way with words – guidelines for the portrayal of people with disabilities’.

You can find an electronic copy of the guide here.

Avoid: Downsie, Downs, Mongol, Down syndrome child, Down syndrome person, a Down syndrome.
Use: A person with Down syndrome, a child with Down syndrome, a baby with Down syndrome.

Avoid: Disabled person, disabled child.
Use: Person with a disability, child with a disability.

Avoid: Afflicted with, suffering from, victim of.
Use: has Down syndrome

Avoid: Special people
Use: People who have Down syndrome

Avoid: Mentally retarded, slow.
Use: Person with an intellectual impairment.

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