Person-First Language

Person-first language emphasizes the humanity and wholeness of a person rather than their diagnosis, condition or any one characteristic.

Constructions commonly start with the phrase “people with” or “people living with”:

  • People living with depression, not “depressed people”
  • People diagnosed with cancer, not “cancer patients”
  • People with asthma, not “asthmatics”
  • People who use wheelchairs, not “wheelchair-bound people”
  • Older people, not “the elderly”
  • Young people, not “the youth”
  • People experiencing homelessness, not “homeless people”
  • People with low income, not “low-income people”

The idea of using person-first language over identity-first language is debated. Whenever possible, ask the person or entity in question how they would like to be identified. If that’s not possible, default to person-first language, but be prepared to switch to identity-first language if needed.

Relatedly, be careful when designating a group of people with similar characteristics as a “community” when that may not be the case, or they may be composed of several communities grouped together. Just because a group of people share a characteristic does not mean they move through the world in the same way — be sure a community is actually present. Remember there is diversity within diversity.

  • For example, “LGBTQ+ community” is inaccurate. The abbreviation represents several distinct communities whose members experience life and society differently. “LGBTQ+ communities” is more accurate.