Putting People First
A disability is defined as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of such individual.”
While that defines a disability, a disability does not define a person; it is only an attribute, one that impairs some life activity. Like any other attribute, a disability is only an aspect of the whole person. A child is not a Downs girl – she is a little girl with Down Syndrome. This example of the “People First Language” movement gets this right by putting the person before the disability.
It reminds us that who they are as a person comes first, their disability only an adjective that describes one part of them.
A disability does make a person different from others, just as a woman who is taller than six feet is also different from most women; her unique attributes can make finding clothes problematic. In that same way, a little girl with Down Syndrome is different from other little girls. Her fingers are shorter and not as strong, so buttoning her shirt may be more difficult for her. She is more likely to acquire a thyroid disease, and when she grows up, her job opportunities may be limited due to intellectual impairment. But her smile and her personality, with all her likes and dislikes, will be uniquely her own. The people who love her will come to know all her attributes that go far beyond her disability, like a love for practical jokes.
Occasionally, a UCP staff member will hear that “it must be so sad to work with people with disabilities.” This could not be farther from the truth. We come to know the person first, with their disability becoming just another trait that makes them unique. The truth is that the children and adults we serve at UCP help each of us come face to face with our own personal disabilities; as we help a little girl overcome the obstacles that come with Down Syndrome, she helps us overcome our own obstacles. She erases the blindness in our hearts that refuses to see the joy in small accomplishments. She shows us how to take our first steps in any long journey of perseverance, where things don’t come easy. She teaches us to reach out with love to someone different than ourselves. We learn that our disability is not who we are, but a facet of our whole person. The UCP staff has the adults and children that we serve to thank for this deeper understanding of ourselves.
To respond to the needs of the community, UCP has a commitment to help people with disabilities no matter where they are in life. We are honored to be a part of their journey as they show us new things and teach us new lessons, and allow us to grow alongside them.
To learn more about the services UCP offers to people of all disabilities, ages and from all walks of life, visit ucpofcentralaz.org.