Learning About Disability Through Language

Celia Lewis

January 22, 2021

For MLK day, I attended the session ‘The R Word: Changing the Nomenclature around Disabilities’. As someone with Autism and Panic Disorder, I find it really important to engage in thought about my disabilities and how to interact with the larger community.

The two types of language used to describe one’s disability are Disability-First Language (DFL) and Person-First Language (PFL). If you were to use DFL, you’d refer to me as ‘an autistic person’, while if used PFL, you’d refer to me as ‘a person with autism’. Personally, I prefer DFL because autism is a major part of my identity and I wouldn’t be who I am today without the disorder.

There are a variety of language problems within the autistic community. For example, the terms ‘high-functioning’ and ‘low-functioning’ imply that people with autism need to fit a certain criteria if they want to ‘function’ (the definition of functioning differs from person to person). Many neurotypical people refer to me as ‘high-functioning’, and it feels like I’m being compared to others with autism.

In general, please ask disabled people how they want to be referred to before making assumptions. Everyone has their own preferences and needs.



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