Welcome to Picture Books for All
Children of all abilities should see themselves in the books they read. That's what makes reading fun. There are many picture books that include characters with disabilities; some are excellent in terms of their portrayal of these characters, some are pretty good, and some miss the mark. This blog features these picture books and evaluates them based on standards for quality in children's books that portray characters with disabilities. For more information, see the first post entitled "Welcome to Picture Books for All." (Click here) Welcome to Picture Books For All
Sunday, June 24, 2012
Since people-first language is one of the standards for quality portrayal of characters with disabilities, writers and readers need to understand what it is and why it is important. People-first language is simply sentence structure that places people first and details or descriptors second. A person with a disability is first a person. A child with spina bifida is a child who happens to have spina bifida. We are all people first, and it makes a lot of sense to speak and write with this in mind. Now that I know about people-first language, my ears ring when I hear terms like "special-needs child" or "the disabled population." "Special needs parents" is no better, nor is "wheelchair-bound individual" or "mentally-ill adult." The respectful way to refer to people with disabilities, whatever those disabilities may look like, is "people with disabilities."
And while we're on the topic of language, there are some words that we just don't use any more because they are outdated and disrespectful. These include "retarded" and "mentally retarded," which are doubly negative because they are not "people first" (the old term being "mentally retarded child") nor are they acceptable words in this day and age. We now use "a person with an intellectual disability" or "a child with an intellectual disability" to describe or refer to someone with an IQ below 70. People with an IQ below 70 can still think, feel, and talk. Imagine someone having to tell another person what his or her disability is. You can hear how much more self-respect someone can maintain by saying, "I have an intellectual disability" rather than "I'm retarded." How liberating that we have finally realized this and come up with respectful terms.
Other terms that have become archaic and make my ears hurt are: "crippled," "lame," (how easily our youth use this term today to mean "not good enough," "stupid," "unoriginal," "annoying," or "worthless"), and yes, even "sped student." "Sped student" is neither people-first (a student in special education), nor respectful (what's a "sped"?). There are many others as well, but thankfully, they have totally dropped out of the vernacular and therefore do not need mention here.
So next time you hear language that is not "people-first," or if you use the old terminology by mistake, think twice and then make the correction. Pointing out to others that people-first language is more respectful takes courage. So be brave people, and make your mark on a positive and very meaningful change in the way our society views all kinds of people: people with long hair, people with tattoos, people with light or dark skin, or people with disabilities. Remember, we are all people first.