People-First Language and My Little Sister, Gabby!

Updated: Feb 26

Followers, meet my sister! I felt it was important to do a blog post about Gabby since she has been such a big part of my life. And, since many questions about people with disabilities can be tough to ask, I thought I'd answer some of them here.

Gabby is 24 years old and very high functioning for an individual with Down Syndrome. She is almost entirely independent - she can cook, clean, play sports, work, read, write, and use technology better than my grandparents do. She can't drive or manage money, but she is sassy, stubborn, and smart and if you meet her you'll see that sometimes she is all three at once.

From dancing, to bowling, to soccer, to choir, Gabby can do just about anything she sets her mind to, granted it doesn't have to do with heights. She has graduated high school with a diploma, held jobs at P&G and McAlister's Deli, and completed the Project Life program (an education and work experience program for students with disabilities).

Gabby has had boyfriends and love interests just like anyone else. She's made friends over the years from school, Top Soccer, Project Life, church groups, and her competitive dance teams. She enjoys posting videos of dance routines she's choreographed and other recordings on Snapchat and Instagram. She loves Luke Bryan, the Descendants, and her favorite Youtubers Jacy and Kacy.

My sister and I have been involved in many DS communities and events over the years, including Gigi's Playhouse (back in Illinois), the Buddy Walk, Down Syndrome Association of Greater Cincinnati, Top Soccer, The Special Olympics, and more. It's been a great way to meet people and help the community in a larger way.

What is “People First Language”? ⁠

PFL puts the person before the disability and describes what a person has, not who a person is. PFL uses phrases such as “person with a disability,” “individuals with disabilities,” and “children with disabilities,” as opposed to phrases that identify people based solely on their disability, such as “the disabled.”⁠

Although some may see this as “political correctness”, it is so much more than that. PFL involves seeing a person as more than their disability and recognizing that their disability does not define them. This can apply to people with physical disabilities, such as those who are amputees, paraplegic, of short stature, use wheelchairs or canes, are blind or visually impaired. PFL is just as applicable for people with mental disabilities, like Down Syndrome and Autism.⁠

Throughout the years I have been involved in many organizations working with people with disabilities, including Gigi’s Playhouse, the Down Syndrome Association of Greater Cincinnati (DSAGC), the Special Olympics, the Buddy Walk, and others. PFL has been a fundamental lesson in my life having a little sister with a disability and has shaped how I communicate with others. ⁠

Language is powerful. Think about how you use your power.⁠

One thing I don't tolerate when it comes to my sister: folks using the R-word around me, whether it's meant to describe a person or just something that is slow or stupid. Full stop. I've never used it or allowed those around me to use it without calling them out. That's not to say that I hunt down every person on the street using the word, but if you're going to be a consistent part of my life (work, relationships, etc.) then I usually say something the first time I hear it. Most people are pretty cool about adapting their language around me, and it's easy enough when there are so many synonyms you can use in place of it.

I'm thankful to have an incredible sister who has taught me so much.

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