Person-first language key to school inclusivity
- Special needs advocate Michelle Foley and Cristina Santamaria Graff, an assistant professor of education at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis write for Edutopia that addressing students using person-first language, which highlights that they are individuals rather than relying on descriptors like learning differences, is key to boosting inclusivity in schools.
- For example, the duo point out that person-first language would describe a diagnosis like diabetes by addressing someone as "a person with diabetes" rather than as "a diabetic," focusing on an individual's humanity rather than a trait they have.
- Ultimately, the approach allows the student in question, or their parent or guardian, to decide whether certain traits or descriptors are relevant to their situation.
At the core of person-first language is a desire for more empathy, giving educators the additional opportunity to demonstrate how to use social-emotional skills. Identifying students based on specific traits or learning differences can carry stigmas that inadvertently distance them from their classmates rather than creating an inclusive environment. But demonstrating and teaching the use of person-first language can encourage students to look beyond external descriptors to see the value in each individual and what they can contribute.
This, of course, is just one example of how educators are modeling empathy to students. Earlier this year at Fremont Intermediate School, located outside of Chicago, teachers shadowed students throughout the day to learn more about their routines, challenges and perspectives, gaining better insight on how they see things. It's a valuable skill students can use well into their careers as they're expected to collaborate with peers from a variety of different backgrounds and experiences.
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