Saturday, November 28, 2009

People First: A Response to "Bias Free Language"

The first time I was introduced to the “people first rule” I was enrolled in a social work program at a community college in BC. We were learning about different groups of people, some of their struggles, and how to best support them in a client-worker relationship. I remember watching a video presented by the Association for Community Living; it discussed the ways that many people negatively label and view those who have developmental disabilities. A child may be labeled a “retard” by those who do not see him or her as real a person, or people might describe someone with a diagnosis of Down syndrome as “that Down syndrome kid”. Similarly, a person with a mental illness might be called “a crazy person”, “a schizophrenic”, or “a suicidal lunatic”. The video made a lot of sense to me, and afterward I committed to see the person first, and not the minor detail that made him or her different from me.
If we are speaking or writing about a person we should not call him or her “a schizophrenic” but if it is necessary to name their disease or disability we should say a “person with schizophrenia...” A child with Down syndrome is not “a Down syndrome kid” but rather “a child with Down syndrome....”
My three year old daughter attends a day care with many children from different cultural backgrounds. When I speak to her about her friends, I have made it a habit to describe her friends in terms other than their skin colour or other cultural differences: “Did you play dress up with the little girl who was wearing the white gown? What is her name?” I know it is something relatively simple, but I hope that it will help her to see the person first, and subsequently appreciate and admire differences. Kristen brings up some other points related to bias free language in her "Word Power" blog.
As a person who loves to write creatively, I acknowledge that the description of people is very important, but I think that it is more important to accurately describe a person and perhaps their behavior in the proper context and to leave out our own labels, prejudices and ignorance. After all, people are extremely complex, and what defines a woman, man, or child likely cannot be seen visually.

1 comment:

  1. I agree with the way people should be acknowledged, and it's great to hear that you've passed on those morals to your children. I believe that with writing, we are able to give people a proper portrayal of who they are without having to resort to typical stereotyping.