Saturday, October 3, 2015


Closeup photo of the word "evolution" in a dictionary
I’m working on a bunch of things to post about for the next couple of weeks. In the meantime, here’s a terrific quote from Ari Ne’eman’s two-part article on the National Council on Disability’s research on Sheltered Workshops:
"Disability policy is full of examples of yesterday’s innovation becoming today’s indignation. As my friend Anne Donnellan once put it, “The mark of anyone good in disability service-provision is that they’re at least a little bit ashamed of what they were doing twenty years ago.” The opposite of this is also true – many of the worst disability services come from becoming too attached to program models that were considered state of the art in previous decades." -- Ari Ne’eman: (Almost) Everything You Need to Know About Sheltered Workshops: [Part 1] [Part 2]
I thought of this earlier this week during a great Twitter conversation I had about “Person First Language” and “Identity First Language” with @greggberatan, @erabrand, @mikeemort and a few others. I switched from PFL to IFL a couple of years ago. Until that time, my understanding was that Person First Language was THE progressive term to use, completely consistent with the Social Model of disability. Anything else, I assumed, was ableist, and any disabled person using IDL had to be misinformed.

As it turned out, I was the one who was misinformed. No, that’s not quite right. I was informed … 25 years ago. And while I am not “ashamed” of having used and encouraged Person First Language, I have no trouble now saying that my thinking has evolved, and so has the thinking of many smart, savvy, self-aware people in the disability community. People who prefer using Identity First Language know what they are doing.

Ideas about disability evolve. Cynical ableists aside, what we did before was the best we could figure out at that time. "People with disabilities" was a huge improvement over "handicapped," and we should have no regrets. However, we do need to take care not to be arrogant about our beliefs, or assume we are always the cuttting-edge thinkers, and remember that sometimes, people who disagree with us may have the better idea.


I won't try to explain the pros and cons of the two "identification models." I am not very good at parsing out the different justifications for each one. I will say that once I bought into Identity First Language, I did so enthusiastically, mainly because it's easier to say and write. "I'm disabled" just sounds smoother and less cumbersome than "I am a person with a disability."