This is one of the hardest posts I have had to write. This is in part because it addresses some of the people who are closest to me and I know love Ella deeply. I know that in them using the language they do, they are not saying that they think any less of Ella, nor are they saying that they don’t believe in Ella’s person separate from her diagnosis but here it is…
Ella is not a Downs kid. She is not a Down Syndrome Child and she is not downsy.
She is a child with Down Syndrome.
Down Syndrome does not define her. It is not who she is.
She is Ella. She is a bright, vivacious, caring, determined and charismatic little girl who doesn’t even know she has Down Syndrome.
I know what you are thinking – isn’t it a moot point? Sure, it might seem like that but please know that every time you say it, I cringe inside. Why? Because this type of language only feeds the stereotypes that we are trying so desperately to dissipate. Individuals with disabilities are so much more than their challenges and by using language like Disabled Child, Handicapped kid or Downsy, you overlook the fact that he or she is first a person, a human, an individual – just like you or me. It also fosters a tone of “less-than” and “different” when the reality is, these individuals are more alike than different. You don’t call me Chinese Krista or Socially-awkward Krista. I am just Krista – those other attributes are just perks of who I am.
People First Language is about respect and dignity. It puts the person before the condition. It honours the Golden Rule, do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Here, let me help you.
Instead of saying: A Downs kid
Say: A child with Down Syndrome
Instead of saying: Mentally retarded
Say: Cognitive disability
Instead of saying: Autistic kid
Say: A child with Autism
Post-edit: (I have since been informed that some people with Autism actually prefer to be called Autistic)
Instead of saying: Joe is mentally ill
Say: Joe has a mental illness
Give Ella and other’s with varying challenges the opportunity to define themselves. Don’t do it for them. Together we can grow positive attitudes towards disabilities and the beautiful diversity that accompanies them.