Person First

Me and my booksOne of the hard things about always talking about disabilities is that it begins to feel like that’s the only thing that’s important about me or that it’s the only thing I care about. Sometimes I worry it’s the only thing in me that anyone would find interesting.

I feel like you guys get a very skewed picture of me, like the reflection in a circus mirror, all bulbous and distorted with my nose way bigger than my face. Looking at that Kendra you’d think, “Boy, that nose is really important. She must spend a lot of time taking care of it.” But really my disability – and my interest in disabilities – is only a part of the whole.

In PT school we were taught “person first” language. It’s the concept that anyone, no matter their ability or functionality, is a person way before all the other labels are applied. In practice it means that I’m a woman with a disability. Not a disabled woman. Tricky, right? Even I’ve had trouble weeding out the language that reduces me to a statistic.

But here’s where I struggle. I’m this awkward mix of idealistic and pragmatic. I want to believe I’m a person first and everything else is just a high-priced add on I can compartmentalize, but I recognize that my injury has changed me. Invaded me. The little box that says “Disability” has leaked into the box that says “Wife” and the one that says “Sister.” The one that says “Daughter.” That one hurts.

Yet even with the smudged lines, the disability doesn’t overwhelm the other pieces of me. It is not the most important thing about my life or my experience.

I want there to be a formula, something I can plug bits of my life into that will tell me, “Yes, you’re doing it right.” But person first is not clear cut. It’s not a matter of just changing the way you think about yourself. It’s messy. It’s life. Funny how that works. And still after years of hard work and growth, I struggle to remember I’m more than my disability.

I’m a gamer. I’m a sailor. I’m a deacon and a quilter. I like fantasy and fairytales. I love to eat and hate to cook. I write among hundreds of books and it’s awesome. All of which I can do and be with or without a disability.

Person First: Just Happen to Be Disabled

3 Comments

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3 Responses to Person First

  1. Yup. You said it, sister!

  2. Love it! I find person-first to be so confusing I’m never sure I’m using it right. My son with autism who is autistic (which one is person first again??) would prefer that we call him Nathan. He’s ok with Nathan who has autism or Nathan who is autistic. He’s even ok with my autistic son Nathan. He’s really more concerned about getting you to play a game with him. Autism is a part of who he is, but it doesn’t define him.
    Argh! I think it just got messy trying to use person-first again. 🙂

    • I’m gonna say both Nathan who has autism and Nathan who is autistic are “person first” but Nathan who has autism is going to be slightly better since it implies the autism is an extra, not an inherent part of him. But what do I know? I answer to “hey you with the crutches”.

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