Opinion

Use People First Language to Discourage Deficit Thinking About Our Youth

When I was in graduate school at Brooklyn College back in the late 1990s, I took a class in special education where I was introduced to “people first language.” While I don’t regularly work with youth with disabilities, I’ve adopted people first language as part of my work, college teaching, interactions with and descriptions of the people with whom I work.

Introduced in the late 1980s by advocacy groups in the United States that work with people with disabilities, the basic idea of people first language is to place emphasis on the person, rather than the condition by changing the sentence structure. So rather than “disabled people” or “disabled” the sentence structure becomes: “people with disabilities.” The goal is to avoid dehumanizing (consciously or subconsciously) individuals. It’s also considered a type of disability etiquette. This structure can be applied to any group that is defined by a condition rather than as a people: for example, “veteran experiencing homelessness” as opposed to “homeless veteran.”

So what does this mean for those of us who support, advocate for and work with children and teens who aren’t disabled? Think about how the children and youth we work with often described: “at-risk youth,” “troubled children,” “underprivileged teens,” “low-income kids,” “AIDS babies” …

Do these phrases sound familiar? When someone talks about or describes young people this way, for me it’s like nails on a chalkboard. Descriptions like this perpetuate deficit thinking about our youth. Deficit thinking is the opposite of using an asset-based approach. It’s like looking at the glass half-empty (deficit) as opposed to half-full (asset). In this case, it’s thinking the youth are less than because of the label that gets applied, which are generally associate with deficits, such as “at risk” or “troubled.”In Positive Youth Development, there is an emphasis on using a strengths-based approach, and using people first language is in support of this effort.

It may sometimes feel clunky when making the switch, such as: “young person from a community that is underserved” as opposed to the more common “low-income kid,” but I think it’s worth the effort. Will you give it a try?

Source: Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities

Comments

Youth Today is the only independent, internationally distributed digital media publication that is read by thousands of professionals in the youth service field.

Youth Today adheres to high-quality journalistic standards, providing readers with professional news coverage dedicated to examining a wide spectrum of complex issues in the youth services industry from legislation to community-based youth work.

EDITORIAL INDEPENDENCE

Our organization retains full authority over editorial content to protect the best journalistic and business interests of our organization. We maintain a firewall between news coverage decisions and sources of all revenue.

DONORS & DONOR TRANSPARENCY

We are committed to transparency in every aspect of funding our organization. Donors may be quoted, mentioned or featured in our stories. Our news judgments are made independently – not based on or influenced by donors. Accepting financial support does not mean we endorse donors or their products, services or opinions…(read more)

Archives

Categories

Recent Comments

Kennesaw State University Mountain Logo & Ceneter for Sustainable Journalism Logo
LOGO Institute for Nonprofit News 3 turquoise boxes stacked in "J" shape

Copyright © 2018 Youth Today and MVP Themes --- Published by Center for Sustainable Journalism,
Kennesaw State University, 1200 Chastain Blvd. Suite 310, Kennesaw GA 30144

To Top