“Words matter…choose them carefully.”

Perhaps you’ve heard that expression from a teacher or parent when you were young. The saying reminds us of the impact language can have.  It can harm and offend.  It also can honor and show respect.

The topic of “people-first” language – terminology that puts a person before a disability or life circumstance – has emerged in recent months. For example, in March the Massachusetts senate passed five bills pertaining to people with disabilities. Among them:  measures that would update language in state laws, replacing terms like “handicapped” and “mentally retarded” with phrases:  “people with disabilities” and “persons with intellectual disabilities” for example.

“It may seem like a simple thing, it means a lot to the people we refer to. They don’t want to be identified with their characteristics, they want to be perceived as people with characteristics,” Sen. Patricia Jehlen told the State House News Service, after the proposals passed.

Like Massachusetts, the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services also updated language in its documents, removing words that can offend people with disabilities.

“This change is a long time coming, but I’m glad that now we have adopted language that expresses dignity and regard for people,” DHS Secretary Ted Dallas told PR Newswire last month.

The topic of people-first language emerged in May, during the 2016 Annual Meeting of the American Psychiatric Association.  There, a team of clinicians presented a study that reviewed empathy in medical training. Among the study’s proposals:  implement people-first language into medical training programs to reflect positive attitudes toward people with illnesses and/or disabilities.

Staff members of the REST program applaud efforts taking place nationwide to use people-first language when describing individuals of all abilities across the lifespan.

In fact, we include the topic of people-first language in our respite-care training curriculum. We believe the subject is essential in preparing REST trainers and REST Companions to provide quality respite to families.

To learn more about our training programs, and other topics we cover, visit www.restprogram.org