People-first language shapes individuality

I dedicate this last article I am writing for The Whitworthian to my dad and mom. Daddy, I am forever your little girl who thinks you are superman. Mom, thanks for teaching me to speak up in a quiet world.

People are not defined by ethnicity, the clothes they wear, the way they sound when they talk, what they look like or by a disability they have. People come first, and we should talk about people like that.

People-first language is a concept that was introduced to me by Dana Stevens, a professor in the special education department. The concept is that a disability does not define a person. So instead of saying the autistic child, you should say “the child with autism.” The idea is simple: Put the person first. A person has a disability, but that person could be a teacher, a doctor or someone who loves hiking or skiing. So why do we choose to label them with a disability first? This also goes for people without disabilities. With people-first language, you wouldn’t say that homeless man. You would say a person who is homeless.

An individual is so much more than one aspect. If you don’t believe me yet, or you just don’t think you can change your language, then listen to my story.

My dad was in college when he fell in love with teaching. Reaching out to students and making a difference in their lives became his passion. Dad fell in love with the students right away. The children he has taught in the last 30 years have been mostly from low socioeconomic backgrounds. School is their only constant, and coming to Mr. Fisher’s classroom is the highlight of their day.

My dad loves teaching these children, but he always wants to do more. So, he writes grants. He has written grants to start after-school programs such as a chess team, a cup stacking team and an archery team.

He also wrote grants for technology, new books and better curriculum.

Dad has done whatever he can to show every student in his classroom the potential they have. I remember coming home from school when I was in ninth grade and my dad had bought a pair of shoes for a student who couldn’t afford new ones. I didn’t understand why my dad had to buy that child shoes. He explained to me that being a teacher is more than a day job; it is a way of life.

Three years ago my dad was diagnosed with a brain condition that causes him physical disabilities. At that point in my life I had just become a special education major. Thanks to my dad I was able to see what the families and students I work with go through every day. It’s not easy going out into public and feeling as if the whole world is watching because you are with the clumsy guy with a cane. What isn’t easy about it is not embarrassment because you are with him, but rather the feeling of frustration because people are looking at my dad’s disability first and not him.

Many people don’t understand that disabilities are a part of life. A disability does not define a person. My dad was a brother, a husband, a father and a teacher before his disability, and after his disability he is still all of those things.

My mom is the bravest person I know. When my family’s world started to crumble she held us together. From the moment my dad was diagnosed she knew what our family was meant to do. I will never forget a conversation she and I had in the car once. “Kara, people are just scared of what they don’t know,” she said to me. “It’s our job to explain. It’s our job to teach people that because a person has a disability it doesn’t mean his life is over, or that it defines who he is. It just means he is a little different.”

After that conversation, I knew I had to write this article. This isn’t just about my dad. This is about an entire population. No one person is defined by one aspect.

I recognize it is not easy to change bad habits. But Mohandas Gandhi once said, “We need to be the change we wish to see in the world.”

So, I am being the change I wish to see. I am standing up and using my words to promote people first language. Join me in changing how we talk. Join me in changing how we think. Join me in changing, so that people put people first.

 

Story by Kara Fisher Sports Editor

Photo courtesy of: Kara Fisher

 

Fisher is a senior majoring in English and special education. Comments can be sent to karafisher12@my.whitworth.edu.

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