Putting the Person First and Communicating Effectively
One of the most important issues to consider when communicating with people with disabilities is that communication should be with the person, not his or her disability. Two key components for achieving inclusive health communication through these interactions are person-first language and effective communication.
It is important to utilize person-first language when addressing or referencing an individual or group with a disability or disabilities, at least initially. Using person-first language acknowledges that a disability does not define a person, but is simply another one of their unique, individual qualities. So, when communicating with or referencing someone who has a disability, put him or her ahead of the disability. Below are a few of many possible examples of person-first language and communication:
These examples and the overall concept of person-first language may seem simple, but utilizing it may go a long way towards making individuals of all ability levels feel more respected and equal in all aspects of communication. These rules will not apply to all situations; once you begin interacting with a person with a disability, they may ask that you refer to them in a different way. However, the concept of person-first language is an excellent tool to help you begin considering the best way to communicate with people with disabilities.
Communication is about more than just stating, sending, or otherwise supplying a message. Effective communication represents a more holistic approach to communication that involves ensuring a message is both received by and accessible to all potential communication targets. Approaching communication from a mindset focused on inclusion and accessibility will enable more effective communication, as messages will target and feature individuals of all ability levels and be made in multiple communication formats, ensuring they have the greatest chance to reach, connect with, and impact the broadest possible audience. The Americans with Disabilites Act (ADA) has created this excellent, comprehensive toolkit on effective communication.
It is important to understand and utilize both person-first language and effective communication when planning, developing, and broadcasting messages on any scale, from one-on-one to community-wide. Employing these concepts appropriately in all stages of communication will help to enhance the likelihood that messages will be received and understood by all.
For additional information on person-first language, effective communication, and other facets of inclusive communication, view the Inclusive Health Communication Resources page.