Person-first or identity-first? The debate goes on…and on…and on…

There’s a big discussion going on right now, it might be bigger than puzzle pieces or even vaccines. It’s a discussion that goes beyond the autistic community and encompasses the entirety of the disabled community.

Person-first or identity-first?  Which side of the fence do you land on and why? Oh, and did you know? No matter what you prefer, there is someone waiting in the wings to tell you that you’re wrong.


I see it most often on posts on social media where someone who is disabled uses identity-first because it is how THEY identify.  Almost immediately, as if someone was just sitting at their computer with their hands poised waiting to strike, someone (often someone who is not disabled) will correct them.  And ALWAYS they start with “ACTUALLY, the right way to say it is person-first because you should always see the PERSON not the disability”.

I cannot cringe hard enough. I’d probably pull a muscle if I cringed any harder at that.

There are hundreds of videos on YouTube on this topic (okay, I stopped counting at 40, but there were so so many) and thousands of blog posts written by people who are disabled, who are #actuallyautistic, and many of them are saying the same thing: Identity first.
But many of them are also saying my favorite part:  It really and truly is up to each person what they should be called.

In human services, the big push for many years has been person-first language.  Why? Because as our friend above mentioned, we should always see the person first.

My brain screeched to a halt on that one.

Hang on there, friend, so does that mean that without that language you don’t see disabled people as people?  You really need an ENTIRE industry to alter their wording because society cannot remember that people who just happen to have disabilities are people?


That’s scary.  And it’s true, unfortunately.

And now we live in an age of self-advocacy.  The voices of the autistic community and more broadly the disability community are getting louder.  People are starting to listen.  Change is in the wind.

For me, personally, I prefer identity first.  I could try to explain it as the fact that you cannot separate me from who I am because, well, it’s who I am.  Therefore, I am not “with” anything.  There are those who feel that person-first better describes them, and I totally respect that.

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