What Is…Person-First Language?

Some terms are criticized as social justice jargon. However, many of these terms are important to know about and understand. One such term is person-first language.

Person-first language puts a person before the label, which is often a diagnosis of a disability or a chronic illness. This stands in contrast with what one may call identity-first language, which puts the identity before the person without necessarily denying someone their personhood.

To show an example of how person-first language works (especially in contrast to identity-first language), my friend Joe has a learning disability.[1] When you use person-first language, you are talking about “Joe, who has a learning disability.” In contrast, with identity-first language, you are talking about “my learning-disabled friend Joe.” Here, the person-first language puts Joe before his label of having a learning disability, while the identity-first language puts his learning disability before his name.

The person-centered nature of person-first language (which I know sounds redundant) is why it is so popular among some. However, I offer a huge caveat: not everybody, even in the disability or chronic illness communities, prefers person-first language. As such, while it may be favored by some (including Joe, by the way), you shouldn’t assume that just because one friend with a chronic illness or a disability prefers person-first language means all people with chronic illnesses or disabilities prefer it.[2] In fact, since I’ve started getting more active in blogging and on social media, I’ve known some chronic illness and disability advocates who vocally express their desire not to use person-first language for them, for various reasons.

So, then, what should we do if some people prefer person-first language while others do not? Personally, I would strongly advocate listening to and prioritizing the desires of the individual you are with. In the case of my friend Joe, prioritizing the desires of the individual I am with means using person-first language. For a few of the aforementioned bloggers and social media people I have learned from, it might involve using something that’s not person-first language. But regardless of what those preferences are, what is important is to listen to the preferences of the family member, friend, coworker, or acquaintance (and if you’re not sure, asking that person). After all, it is that person who has experience with the disability or chronic illness they have, and it seems wisest to defer to the language we use for the person with that experience instead of imposing our own wishes and ideas upon others.


[1] Don’t worry; I got my friend’s permission to use his name here.

[2] Also, just as a general principle, I urge against the notion of thinking that any one person represents an entire group, whether that group is based on disability, race, religion, gender identity, or anything else.

Accessibility Options I Hope to See Remain After COVID-19

One of the common refrains I’ve heard from many in the disability advocacy community is that COVID-19 has resulted in everyone from employers to religious communities creating accommodations that would’ve been helpful for people with certain kinds of disabilities to have to begin with. Some in the disability community have even noted the irony that many of the accessibility options that were previously deemed too inconvenient or difficult to implement have only been implemented during COVID-19 now that the ability of able-bodied people to function was being compromised. And that is true—it is ironic indeed.

One of the concerns is that once we get past COVID-19, many of the things that made the world more accessible in certain ways for people with certain kinds of disabilities will disappear. I hope this concern does not turn into reality. As such, on this day, the 31st anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act being signed into law, I want to highlight the following things that I hope to not see disappear from an accessibility standpoint after COVID-19[1]:

More Ability to Work from Home

Unfortunately, the streets, sidewalks, and subways (for those who have subways), to name a few, were not necessarily designed for people with accessibility issues in mind. As such, everything from snow mounds at street crossings during the winter to unreliable subway elevators at all times of year make it exceptionally difficult for people with mobility limitations to navigate around in ways that they get to work in good time.

As such, having greater ability to work from home and not have to worry as frequently about navigating the outdoor obstacle course to get to work seems wise. Working from home came into place at many companies due to COVID-19; hopefully this option can stay, for people in industries where working from home is possible and for people who could use the ability to work from home to begin with. All that being said, I should make it clear that this should be done in addition to, not instead of, making sure that countries, states, cities, and towns are made wheelchair-accessible.

More Livestreamed Religious Services

This is not the first time I have talked about accessibility of religious spaces on my blog—I expressed dismay about the opposition to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) within American Christianity in the past. I wish religious institutions were not exempt from ADA, but until that day comes, there are going to be religious spaces without some basic accessibility features, such as ramps and wheelchair-friendly bathrooms.

In the interim, a good step would be to have more livestreamed religious services, so that people have more of an opportunity to watch their services from home. Livestreamed services have also become a much more common theme than before because of COVID-19, in order to keep people from coming to religious spaces and potentially contributing to the spread of the virus. Hopefully, these livestreamed services will continue and not go away just because able-bodied people feel safe going to church again.

More Doors that Could be Opened Automatically

Before the pandemic, such a device was viewed by some as an item just too expensive to implement. But as many of us turned into germaphobes as a result of the pandemic, having doors that could be opened without our touching them suddenly became a necessity, regardless of what the expense might be. For people with certain kinds of physical disabilities, automatically opening doors were a necessity long before any global pandemic.

Given the necessity of automatically opening doors, regardless of any pandemic, I am hoping that this is something that we continue to have even post-pandemic. While a germaphobe might not want to touch a door due to COVID, a person with certain kinds of physical limitations may be completely unable to open a door in the first place, regardless of whether they want to or not.


There are clearly certain ways that the world has been made more accessible for people with certain kinds of disabilities (and particularly, physical disabilities) as a result of COVID-19. However, it is important to be realistic and realize that this pandemic has not cured the world of all its ableistic tendencies. For example, the pandemic has not resulted in religious buildings becoming more accessible, in subways receiving more elevators, and in sidewalks that need ramps for wheelchairs receiving such ramps. If anything, the fiscal peril that many, ranging from religious institutions to local governments, are facing due to COVID-19 will give a lot of places the excuse that they cannot afford to make certain places and spaces more accessible for people with disabilities (as to whether such places truly cannot afford such improvements, I guess one can only judge on a case-by-case basis). Still, there are certain ways our world has become more accessible due to COVID-19 that will hopefully remain after the pandemic.

Are there other forms of accommodation that you hope remain after COVID for the sake of people with disabilities? If so, please comment below.


[1] Note that this is by no means an exhaustive list. There may be other forms of accessibility that have only come into place that I’m forgetting right now—if there are any such things you want to highlight, please feel free to respond in the comments section below.

On the Notion that Having a Disability is Tragic

A handicapped parking spot

In my observations, many (but not all) attitudes about people with disabilities seem to fall into one of two categories: either someone is an “inspiration” just for living with the disability, or the fact that someone has a disability is “tragic” and sad.

Many of the disability activists I know of, through following them on social media, try to push back against both notions—the notion that they are inspirations and the notion that it is tragic that they have the disability. However, I want to focus today’s post on addressing this notion that exists among some of us that having a disability is a tragedy.

Why do some people view it as tragic? It’s because of the fact that in many cases, a disability that exists out of the control of an individual can limit what someone is able to do—everything from the jobs one is able to do, to the subway stations in New York City one is able to enter into or exit out of. These limits that exist therefore make the disability itself tragic.

I can see where the “disability as tragic” mindset comes from, but in thinking about why a disability is viewed that way by some of us, I can’t help but ask the following question: Is it the disability itself that is tragic, or instead is it the fact that many homes, employers, governments, individuals, houses of worship, and other places don’t even bother to make the effort to make their part of the world more accessible to people of a variety of disabilities? You see, in a world where all of us made an effort to make sure that people with a variety of disabilities are included fully, then we would be in a world where one’s opportunities are not limited by disability. In a world where all this effort is made at accessibility, then the limits would be fewer and farther between (if they were to exist at all). And yet, nowhere near enough effort is made at this.

It is that lack of effort at making sure people with a variety of disabilities have a fair shot that is particularly tragic.

To address the tragedy, we need to cut out the excuses. Yes, it costs money to build ramps and elevators, add accommodations for braille, and make sure there are sign language interpreters where that is necessary. But if we really wanted to make sure all human beings have a fair shake, then we need to find a way to make sure that people with a wide variety of disabilities are accommodated.

Gaslighting in Contexts Other Than Relationships

I was absolutely overwhelmed with the response to my “what is” post last week about gaslighting. I never know when a post will resonate with my readers, and I could tell that my post resonated with quite a few of you. It’s unfortunate that so many related to the post because of their experiences as victims of gaslighting, but I’m also hopeful that some people will come to a better understanding of their experiences through reading that post.

However, I think it is worth doing a follow-up post because of things I’ve learned even since last Monday, and things people should learn as well, about gaslighting in contexts other than one-on-one relationships with other people.

In saying this, it is worth remembering that gaslighting is “a specific type of manipulation where the manipulator is trying to get someone else (or a group of people) to question their own reality, memory or perceptions.”[1]

Phrases like the following can be commonplace:

Of course that didn’t happen. You’re being crazy.”

“Your mind must be playing games.”

“It’s all in your head.”

“You’re being too sensitive.”

These challenges to one’s reality, memory, and perceptions happen a lot in relationships, as I said in my post last Monday, but they can also happen in other contexts.

One other context in which gaslighting can happen is politics—something that a couple of the comments in response to my post pointed out last Monday. When a politician makes a person, or a whole group of people, question their own reality, that is political gaslighting. In fact, as controversial as it may be for me to say this, I think that the American people are a victim of President Donald Trump’s gaslighting regarding the election results—he is trying to get the entire country to doubt the basic reality that he lost, so that he could be president for four more years (or for life). Thankfully, no amount of gaslighting can result in giving Trump an election that he undoubtedly lost, but in the meantime the American people have to deal with the fact that he has successfully convinced a group of people of a reality that simply does not exist. And, when you have someone with a large platform who engages in an act of political gaslighting, the result is that a group of people gets convinced of a reality that does not exist (as is the case here with the election and President Trump).

Yet another context that gaslighting can exist is in the experiences of people with disabilities, racial minorities, LGBTQ+ people, and other groups that face discrimination. Reading a post from Jackie at Disability & Determination helped me recognize that gaslighting absolutely exists in this context. Jackie’s post talked about gaslighting in the context of the disability community—it is painfully common in the disability community for someone to question or doubt the reality that there are certain things you aren’t able to do, or at least not do in the same way, as an able-bodied individual (or dismiss the reality of the disability in general). It can exist in the context of LGBTQ+ individuals through people who counter their perceptions of their sexual or gender identity, in the context of Black people through people who try to divert attention to how difficult they also have things in life, in the context of poor people by countering any notion that they are working hard yet struggling to still get by (saying that they simply need to work harder), and much more. Groups of people face discrimination and are gaslit about their own experiences of discrimination—a double whammy.

There may be other major manifestations of gaslighting that I did not cover either in last week’s post or this post; if so, please let me know in the comments section below. However, it is clear to me now that in addition to gaslighting rearing its ugly head in relationships, it can also rear its ugly head in other forms, such as in politics and the experiences of people in groups that face discrimination.


[1] My definition comes from here: https://www.nbcnews.com/better/health/what-gaslighting-how-do-you-know-if-it-s-happening-ncna890866

Barriers to Evacuating From a Weather Disaster

Before every hurricane, we hear elected officials to tell people to “get out of harm’s way.” They say that “if you don’t leave, you are putting your own life at risk.” Or even more dire—I’ve heard elected officials say that “death is certain” if you don’t evacuate. People in parts of Louisiana and Texas heard all of this as Hurricane Laura was approaching last week.

Now don’t get me wrong—I appreciate the strong language. I think that when a major hurricane is heading straight at you, particularly if you’re in an area vulnerable to storm surge from the hurricane, you need to evacuate, if at all possible.

However, I beg people, including any government officials, to take notice of that final clause in my previous sentence: if at all possible.

I say that because, for some people, evacuating is not possible. And the results of this are catastrophic, even deadly.

But how could this be the case, when governments like to give a face of taking these storms seriously? Well…here are just a few major barriers to evacuating from a weather disaster:

Not enough shelters are pet-friendly.

A Reuters article some time ago put it best—pet owners often think of their pets first when natural disasters strike.[1] Now some of that is because people are that emotionally attached to their pets (and that is valid), but we also have to keep in mind that, in some cases, people literally can’t function without their pets. From people who rely on animals as a form of therapy for physical and/or mental health issues, to blind individuals who rely on guide dogs to get them around, there is a whole population of people who can’t function without their pets. Therefore, it is unacceptable for governments to either be short on shelters (as was the case with Florida before Hurricane Irma in 2017, according to the aforementioned Reuters article) or lack pet-friendly shelters in the first place (as was the case with South Carolina with Hurricane Florence a few years ago[2]). If governments want people to evacuate, they need to have evacuation shelters that allow people to be with their pets, for both people who are attached to their pets and for people who can’t function without pets.

Governments also do not provide adequate transportation for people with disabilities.

I was only eleven years old when Hurricane Katrina hit, but one of the things I remember from Katrina was how the City of New Orleans and the State of Louisiana did not adequately provide transportation for the disabled to get to a safe place. Depending on the disability, one may not be able to get to higher ground on their own; therefore, there needs to be help. With Hurricane Katrina, government didn’t help adequately, and the death toll was probably much higher than it should’ve been because of that lack of help.

I will end this section with a quote from a report issued by the National Council on Disability in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005: “For example, during the Katrina evacuation, many people with disabilities could not evacuate because to do so would require them to abandon support services and personnel. Moreover, since emergency transportation and shelters could not care for them, many people with disabilities were forced to stay behind.”[3]

Employee rights are inadequate.

How inadequate are employee rights? So inadequate that people can, and have, been fired because of evacuating from hurricanes. For example, a woman in North Carolina claimed that she was fired for not showing up to work after losing power during Hurricane Florence in 2018—that’s very possible because North Carolina is what’s called an “at-will employment state,” or a state where “private-sector employees can be fired for any reason – or no reason at all.”[4] There were also stories galore before, during, and after Hurricane Irma asking whether an employee can be fired for fleeing from the hurricane (by the way, the consensus answer was “yes”). Until governments have better protections keeping people from being fired for not showing up to work during or immediately after a hurricane as part of an evacuation plan, people will hesitate to evacuate for fear of missing work and being fired.


When a disaster such as a hurricane is on the way, the barriers to evacuating should be minimized to the greatest extent possible. However, that does not happen, and that likely results in preventable deaths.

Please note that I will not publish a post next Monday, as next Monday is Labor Day.


[1] This article talked about how, even for those who need companion animals, pet-friendly shelters were difficult to find: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-elderly-evacuation-pets/florida-needs-more-pet-friendly-hurricane-shelters-for-the-elderly-idUSKBN1CM2Q4

[2] https://weather.com/safety/hurricane/news/2018-09-11-where-to-take-pets-south-carolina-shelters

[3] https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED496270.pdf

[4] https://www.nbc26.com/news/national/employers-can-fire-employees-who-evacuated-for-hurricane-in-north-carolina