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Use People First Language to Discourage Deficit Thinking About Our Youth

Introduced in the late 1980s by advocacy groups in the United States that work with people with disabilities, the basic idea of people first language is to place emphasis on the person, rather than the condition by changing the sentence structure. So rather than “disabled people” or “disabled” the sentence structure becomes: “people with disabilities.” The goal is to avoid dehumanizing (consciously or subconsciously) individuals. It’s also considered a type of disability etiquette. This structure can be applied to any group that is defined by a condition rather than as a people: for example, “veteran experiencing homelessness” as opposed to “homeless veteran.”

So what does this mean for those of us who support, advocate for and work with children and teens who aren’t disabled? Think about how the children and youth we work with often described: “at-risk youth,” “troubled children,” “underprivileged teens,” “low-income kids,” “AIDS babies” …

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