Language is powerful. Words impact perception and have the ability to convey respect or minimalize people. People with disabilities are often reduced to their disabilities and not thought of as people first. After the recent kidnapping and rescue of a teenage girl with a developmental disability, the participants of the CHAI Works day program wanted to make sure that their voices were heard. CHAI Works wrote a letter and sent it to Boston area media outlets advocating that people-first language always be used.

To Whom It May Concern:

We, the participants of JF&CS CHAI Works community-based day program are writing on behalf of individuals who have special needs. In our program, we have a current events group each morning where we discuss the news. On the morning of Thursday September 12, 2013 we discussed a story about a missing teen girl from Medfield, Massachusetts. This girl happened to have developmental delays, and we think that the media could have been more respectful in the way they described her. Most media outlets ran stories titled “developmentally disabled teen missing,” focusing first on her disability and not on the fact that she was a missing teen girl who also had a disability. We were happy to find out she was found safe, but the story began a discussion about person-first language. We think that she should have been first described as a missing girl, and only after first recognizing her as a missing human being, then include details about the fact that she had special needs in the same way they list other physical descriptors.

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