Person-First and Identity-First Language: Developing Psychologists’ Cultural Competence Using Disability Language
The American Psychological Association (APA) advocates the use of person-first language (e.g., people with disabilities) to refer to individuals with disabilities in daily discourse and to reduce bias in psychological writing. Disability culture advocates and disability studies scholars have challenged the rationale for and implications of exclusive person-first language use, promoting use of identity-first language (e.g., disabled people). We argue that psychologists should adopt identity-first language alongside person-first constructions to address the concerns of disability groups while promoting human dignity and maintaining scientific and professional rigor. We review the evolution of disability language and then discuss the major models used to characterize disability and people with disabilities. The rationale for person-first language and the emergence of identity-first language, respectively, are linked to particular models. We then discuss some language challenges posed by identity-first language and the current intent of person-first language, suggesting that psychologists make judicious use of the former when it is possible to do so. We conclude by offering five observations of ways that use of both person-first and identity-first language could enhance psychologists' cultural competence regarding disability issues in personal and scientific communications.