Practicing Cultural Humility: Person First Language

What’s wrong with saying, “a disabled person” or “the disabled”? We need to detach people from their experiences to say: people or a person “with disabilities.” Put the person first. A disability is what someone has, not what someone is. For instance, “mentally ill” is less respectful than “person with mental-health issues.”

Person-first language challenges the way that we attach meaning, or stigma, to peoples’ identities.

Last week, San Mateo County conducted its biennial “One Day Homeless Count”. There is a very important distinction we need to make: The people we want to help are not without a home — San Mateo is their home. What they are is “unhoused”, not “homeless”.

For many, the word “homeless” conjures up an array of negative sterotypes: someone who is shiftless, dishonest, and untrustworthy. I want all of us to challenge those stigmas and begin to say, “a person who is unhoused”, instead of “homeless people”.

This empowering shift will function to humanize an important and present part of our community, 1,722 of us, that is often treated otherwise.