Cultural Competence and Humility’s Docs Person-First and Identity-First 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.