Skip to Full Menu

Providing information, education, and training to build knowledge, develop skills, and change attitudes that will lead to increased independence, productivity, self determination, integration and inclusion (IPSII) for people with developmental disabilities and their families.

Regular Lives for Families with Children with Disabilities: Interview with Kathie Snow

Speak About People First Language

Produced in 2013 by Minnesota Governor's Council on Developmental Disabilities

<< Return to Index       Minority Groups and Owning the Language >>

Kathie Snow: People first language is critically important, and, of course, a lot of people like to say, oh, it's just that PC stuff, but it's not. Whenever people say it's PC, politically correct, that's a way of sort of putting it down, of saying it's not really important. And I've found that most people who even talk about, oh, it's just PC no matter what it is, are usually people that have never been on the receiving end of slurs or prejudice or discrimination. Most people who have been on the receiving end are aware of the sensitivity to it.

But people first language was started by people with disabilities back in the '70s as really part of the people first movement that came out of the origin of the Scandinavian countries, came to Canada by way of a conference and some people from Oregon went to the conference in Canada. And it was people with disabilities, specifically, people with cognitive disabilities, who said, we are not our disabilities. We are people first. I'm a person first. And they also said, we can speak for ourselves. So that was the beginning of what we look back on now and call the people first movement or the self advocacy movement.

And when I was in the Partners program, so, again, this was back in the 1970s, but all of us can be sort of slow learners, including myself. When I was in the Partners in Policymaking® program in 1990 and 1991, all the graduates had to complete a project within a few months of graduating, and I chose to write an article about people first language. People first language was sort of… it was sort of there, it was sort of around at that time, but not to the degree that it became later, as more and more people got involved and interested in it.

And so there weren't really any articles written about it. And I cared about it because I just hated the way people talked about my son. I hated the way the words that doctors and professionals used to describe my son. It was like that's not who my son is. You know, the handicapped or the cerebral palsy. I mean all kinds of language.

And then, in the Partners program, there were adults with disabilities who were helping me learn about the importance of it, about what it feels like to be described a certain way and how you see yourself by how you're described. And at the same time, there were a couple people in the class that had disabilities that talked about themselves in horrible ways, and you realized that they did that because that's the way their parents talked about them.

I mean children grow up talking and seeing themselves through the eyes and ears of their own parents. I mean they… I love this wonderful quote. I think the lady's name is Marcelene Cox and she said, "Children can never be better than their parents think they are." I mean children, the mirror is by looking in our eyes. They can't be very good because that's the image that we've given them.

And so people first language is very, very important. It's very simple. It's not hard to understand. You put the person before the disability. It's a person with a disability. It's not a handicapped person. We're going to get rid of that "H" word altogether. The "H" word is as pejorative as the "N" word is to other people.

©2023 The Minnesota Governor's Council on Developmental Disabilities
 370 Centennial Office Building  658 Cedar Street   St. Paul, Minnesota 55155 
Phone: 651.296.4018   Toll-free number: 877.348.0505   MN Relay Service: 800.627.3529 OR 711  Email:   View Privacy Policy   An Equal Opportunity Employer 

The GCDD is funded under the provisions of P.L. 106-402. The federal law also provides funding to the Minnesota Disability Law Center, the state Protection and Advocacy System, and to the Institute on Community Integration, the state University Center for Excellence. The Minnesota network of programs works to increase the IPSII of people with developmental disabilities and families into community life.

This project was supported, in part by grant number 2001MNSCDD-03, from the U.S. Administration for Community Living, Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, D.C. 20201. Grantees undertaking projects with government sponsorship are encouraged to express freely their findings and conclusions. Points of view or opinions do not, therefore, necessarily represent official ACL policy.

This website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL),  U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $1,120,136.00 with 83 percent funded by ACL/HHS and $222,000.00 and 17 percent funded by non-federal-government source(s). The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.