Identity First and Person First Language of the Deaf and Autistic Communities


It is no secret that I was born Deaf. Even though my parents shielded me from the Deaf community, I was very involved as a child. American Sign Language was banned from our home. A teacher and child taught me signs from when I was very young. I had to be careful not to sign at home. I am forever thankful for them. 

After being accepted and involved in the autistic community, I have noticed many similarities. Mostly on Identity First Language. Unlike most late discovered autistics, I had something to compare it to. The Deaf community, much like the autistic community, prefers Identity First Language. Person first language is rejected. 

What is Identity First Language?

Identity first language is a choice about empowerment. Disability is nothing to be ashamed of. Identity first language is embracing disability as part of a person, not being able to be seperated. It shows a sense of pride. This way others respect identities and there is nothing wrong with being disabled. “We’re proud to be autistic and Deaf.” 
Examples of Identity First Language:
I am Deaf. 
I am Hard of Hearing.
I am Autistic. 

What is Person First Language?

Person First Language is when a person prefers the choice of recognizing that the person is a human first. They have a disorder but it does not define them. 
Examples of Person First Language:
This person is hearing impaired.
This person has autism.
This person has a hearing loss. 
This person has deafness. 
This person is deaf.

Identity and Deaf Culture

To the general public, being Deaf or Hard of Hearing is a physical difference, the Deaf community considers themselves as a cultural/linguistic identity. The use of deaf is referring to the audiological condition of not hearing. Deaf is used when referencing a group of Deaf people who share a language and a culture. 
People who are a part of the Deaf community are very different. There are some commonalities. In the United States, ASL is the preferred method of communication. It holds respect to Deaf history, residential schools, Deaf associations and social ties. 
Deaf and Hard of Hearing people do not consider themselves to be broken, ill or have a deficit. This is why the term “hearing impaired” is very offensive. There are Deaf people who hope to have Deaf children. It’s not that they wish their child to be disabled, they want their child to be a part of the close knit Deaf community and want to pass on the Deaf culture to future generations. 
In the Deaf community, there are some who say being called disabled is offensive but that is becoming less common now. Being Deaf is a cultural phenomenon. The main goal of the Deaf community is to have every member be accepted for who they are and not feel like they need to be fixed. The Deaf were the pioneers in the social model of disability. 

Identity and Autistic Culture

As everyone is aware, words can be more powerful than a sword. Identity first language in the Autistic community is Autistic rather than “with autism.” This is because being autistic is a part of their identity.
This concept has driven a rift between parents and people who subscribe to Neurodiversity. Parents will say that they come from a time where the word “autistic” is negative and is offensive. This happens when neurotypical people speak over autistic people. Not out of malice but because they believe they are doing the right thing by “protecting” the poor disabled people. They say that saying “person with autism” that reminds people that the autistic is a person. Do people really need to be reminded that an autistic is a human? Who forgets that?
Identity first language is important to autistic people because autism cannot be separated from the person. Autism is an integral part of the autistic’s identity and who they are.  The autistic person is not ill, diseased or broken. They are just different. Their brains are wired differently. Autistics do not suffer from autism. They might suffer from common comorbidities that are quite common among the autistic community. They never suffer from autism itself. 
An argument is commonly made for person first language when bringing up cancer as a comparison. People would say that person has cancer or they are a person with cancer. This is a very offensive comparison. Autism in no way compares to cancer. Cancer patients and autistic people both find this comparison unacceptable and offensive. If a cancer is removed from a person, they will still be that person. Autism cannot be removed from a person. Cancer can be fatal. Autistics just need to be accepted.

People need to be accepted for who they are and the world will be a much more peaceful and happier place.  


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