We Are People First

AbilityVoice: a blog about mobility topics


Recently, my husband, Brian, and I watched the Olympics on television.We really enjoyed watching many of the events and cheering for our favorite athletes. It is amazing to see their talents and true sense of dedication to their sport.

Throughout the games, news organizations did feature stories about many of the athletes during their Olympic experience. One such story that caught our eye was about Alexandre Bilodeau, the first Canadian to win a gold medal at an Olympics held on Canadian soil. As we watch and listened to his story, we found out that Alexandre has a brother named Frederic who has Cerebral Palsy.

Both Brian and I have Cerebral Palsy, so this story quickly caught our attention. Historically, people with disabilities have often been regarded as individuals to be pitied, feared, or ignored. They have been portrayed as helpless victims, repulsive adversaries, heroic individuals overcoming tragedy, and charity cases who must depend on others for their well-being and care. Media coverage frequently focuses on heartwarming features and inspirational stories that reinforce these stereotypes and patronize and underestimate the individual's capabilities. As a result, we were curious as to how the Bilodeau Brothers' story would be presented.

True to form and right off the bat the reporter said, "Frederic suffers from Cerebral Palsy." Each time Brian and I hear someone say these words, it has become a knee-jerk reaction for us to look at one another and say sarcastically, "Are you suffering?" I did not know I was suffering. We do this because neither one of us feels we have ever suffered or are suffering now as a result of our disability. We are people who live with a disability but certainly do not suffer from it. Why not just say, "Frederic has Cerebral Palsy?"

People need to realize that words really do matter! People with disabilities are, first and foremost, PEOPLE. People who have hopes, dreams, gifts, talents, and challenges just like people who do not have a disability. It is important we do not repeat negative terms that stereotype, devalue, or discriminate, just as we would avoid racial slurs. Every individual regardless of sex, age, race or ability deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. As part of the effort to end discrimination and segregation -- in employment, education and our communities at large -- it's important to eliminate prejudicial language.

People need to realize that words really do matter! People with disabilities are, first and foremost, PEOPLE.

Like other minorities, the disability community has developed preferred terminology - People First Language. More than a fad or political correctness, People First Language is an objective way of acknowledging, communicating, and reporting on disabilities. It eliminates generalizations, assumptions and stereotypes by focusing on the person rather than the disability. As the term implies, People First Language refers to the individual first and the disability second. It emphasizes each person's value, individuality, dignity, and capabilities.

Comments like the media made about Frederic are not only a negative value judgment but it also shows they are missing the entire reason for Alexandre's respect and admiration for his brother. From all that I have read and seen on television, Frederic Bilodeau is a perfect example of someone who lives with a disability but does not suffer from it.

Perhaps George Orwell said it best, "If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought."

Remember, people with disabilities are, first and foremost, PEOPLE. Emphasize each person's value, individuality, dignity and capabilities. After all, it is not just respectful. It's simply the right thing to do.

With that in mind, I hope you'll all plan on watching the 2010 Paralympics, which kick off on Friday, March 12th in Vancouver as well. There will be no shortage of inspirational stories about athletes who are certainly not suffering from their challenges! If there are any other BraunAbility customers out there who feel the same way, let's hear from you!