It happened on Jeopardy! Joe and I are fans of the show and, even if we are in the midst of a Netflix binge, will stop at 7:30pm, every evening to watch. Joe has a better breadth of trivia knowledge but I hold my own on categories that suit my interest. It's a fun watch. And, of course, who doesn't love Alex Trebec?
Anyways as they were introducing the contestants one was identified as a social worker. After the first commercial break Alex was there ready to do a brief and often hilariously uncomfortable chat with each of the three vying for the win. The first guy up was the social worker.
(Let me pause here and say that I will not be able to reproduce exactly what was said, I may get a word or two wrong, but I promise that even with a slight variance in the words I write from the words actually said, the thrust of this post is not changed.)
So, the first guy up is interviewed and he said that he worked with autistic kids in a school setting. He seemed like a genuinely nice guy who really loved his work. Alex asked a question or two and then again he mentioned the autistic kids. Suddenly though, it was like he remembered that he's supposed to use person first language, and just before Alex left and just after he said 'autistic kids' he paused and switched and said, something like, "oh, um, children with autism."
It was awful.
The change in wording to person first language drew much more attention to the autism than did his natural chat about the autistic kids he worked with. In talking about autistic kids in the tone and style of the conversation it was about kids and it was about autism but it wasn't about ... well it wasn't about shame, and a kind of propped up value of those children. The moment he switched to the person first language he drew attention, or the language he used drew attention, to the difference of those kids, to their need for 'propped up value' and the need for their personhood to be mentioned because it couldn't be assumed.
It was awful.
I'd never seen the difference between identity first and person first language so clearly before. The difference was stark.
Now, I recognize that there are people and groups who really disagree with identify first language and indeed I use it all the time in professional forums. It's expected of me and it's a battle I'm not prepared to fight at work. For me at home, in my own world, I use identity first language, most of the time but not all of the time. I never use 'Down Syndrome' kid, for example, I always used kid with Down Syndrome. I'm not sure why but linguistically it seems easier to say and I think the word syndrome makes it something such that personhood needs to be mentioned. I suppose it's a person by person and disability by disability choice, the language that is preferred.
But for me, disabled dude, is fine. Though I'm as far as it's possible for an old guy to be from 'dude-ship' but hey, I get to call myself anything I want.