People First Language


People First Language



Indicators of Quality -- Assistive Technology Reuse 7.4  People First Language People First Language is used in all facets of the program.

Rationale:  Use of People First Language demonstrates sensitivity to the dignity of all individuals.


Key Factors for Consideration

People First Language is used:

By the staff (and training is required for all workers) In program publications In all other facets of the program

People First Language involves referring to the individual before the disability and changing the use of language that is insensitive, negative and demeaning to people with disabilities. It requires that preconceived ideas about people with disabilities be abandoned in favor of an objective reality in which the person with a disability is a person first. In 1993, the U.S. Department of Education/ Office of Civil Rights issued a memorandum that, while not using the term, offered guidelines for referring to people with disabilities that were consistent with what is now called People First Language (PFL). Paraquad, an AT Reuse program based in St. Louis, has developed an attractive poster called Words with Dignity to promote the use of PFL. (See attachments.)


People First Language was popularized by a paper of the same title written by Kathie Snow, the mother of a child with a disability. (The document is attached with her permission.) People First Language is increasingly used in healthcare and is required in some scholarly journals related to disabilities and/or rehabilitation. PFL is not universally accepted among disability communities. Some long-established advocacy groups (e.g., the National Federation for the Blind) have rejected PFL, arguing that the disability is an integral part of what makes the person who he or she is, and that PFL is another venture in political correctness and euphemisms [Jernigan]. The Pass It On Center’s National Task Force recognized the importance of using language that is respectful of and sensitive to people with disabilities when it recommended that the use of People First Language throughout the organization be one of the Indicators of Quality for Assistive Technology Reuse programs. The Disability Is Natural Web site ( offers resources and suggestions for more appropriate language to replace commonly-used language that is objectionable.


Jernigan, Kenneth. The Pitfalls of Political Correctness: Euphemisms Excoriated. Retrieved August 11, 2009, from


Snow, Kathie. People First Language. Retrieved August 11, 2009, from


Please note that by selecting an Internet link you will be directed to an external site, and the Pass It On Center does not control the content of the site.



This work is supported under a five-year cooperative agreement # H235V060016 awarded by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, and is administered by the Pass It On Center of the Georgia Department of Labor – Tools for Life.  However, the contents of this publication do not necessarily represent the policy or opinions of the Department of Education, or the Georgia Department of Labor, and you should not assume endorsements of this document by the Federal government or the Georgia Department of Labor.


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Other Information

Title: People First Language
Module: Marketing/PR
Author: Trish Redmon
Audience: Administrator
Sub Title: Changing attitudes toward people with disabilities
Organization Source: Pass It On Center
Last Reviewed: 04-25-2010 2:45 PM