People First Language

Unfortunately, people too often use language that may be demeaning, misguided or even name calling in nature, when speaking of someone with a disability, whether this is intended or not. Nevertheless, such behavior reflects ignorance, lack of familiarity and fear. For individuals with developmental disabilities, the name calling often takes the form of referring to them by their disability. Instead, one should refer to the person first, and then note the disability as only one aspect of that person. 

For example:

the person uses a wheelchair
the person uses a hearing device
the person walks with a cane
the person communicates through a computer voicePeople First in NC Statutes chart

State Statutes Now Reflect People First Language

Research reveals a dramatic increase in the use of People First language in state statutes, a result of the state law passed in 2009 requiring the use of respectful wording. (full details)

Some 23 objectionable phrases that had been used to describe people with intellectual or developmental disabilities were tracked and thousands of such references were removed. An examination of the statutes at the time of passage and again this fall revealed the progress made.

Some Useful Resources:

People First Brochure Cover

People First (now available in Spanish): The new brochure “We have not met just yet, but... I’m Your Neighbor” provides useful tips for recognizing and speaking in ways that acknowledge the person before their disability. The 2010 People First booklet can be ordered or downloaded pdf / word (English), pdf / word (Spanish)

Glossary: A glossary of terms relating to People First language that can be used for reference.

FYI: FYI is a guidebook for youth with developmental disabilities and their parents face the transition to adulthood.  The booklet can be ordered or downloaded pdf /doc English/Spanish

K-5:  People First K-5 is a guide to People First language for elementary school classes. The booklet can be ordered or downloaded pdf / doc English/Spanish

People First Teen: People First Teen is a guide to People First language for young people in high school.  The booklet can be ordered or downloaded pdf / doc / English / Spanish

People First Webinar: A group of parents explains how you can talk to community and professional groups about using People First language. Watch it here.

These brochures can be ordered from the Council office by contacting Cora Gibson at or by calling her at the Council office, 919-850-2901.