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People First Language

The DSG promotes dignity and respect for all people including individuals with Down syndrome.  The greatest way you can promote these values is to use People First Language. 


Words can create barriers and reinforce stereotypes. Therefore, the DSG strongly believes in the importance of ensuring that People First language is used when talking or writing about individuals with Down syndrome.  Placing the person before the disability emphasizes the person first and the disability second. A baby born with Down syndrome is not a "Down's child" or a "baby with Downs".  It is preferred that you say, he/she is a baby with Down syndrome.  A person with Down syndrome is not a "Downs".  When referring to peers, the correct term is "typical" peers as opposed to "normal."   

It is also important to use correct terminology.  A person does not "suffer" from Down syndrome, nor are they "afflicted".  It is not a disease.  Down syndrome is a chromosomal condition which results in an extra copy of the 21st chromosome.  It was discovered by Dr. John Langdon Down.  However, since Dr. Down did not have this syndrome himself, the possessive form is not used. In addition, the "s" in syndrome is not capitalized.  

Person First language emphasizes respect for the individual. A  person  is much more than a label.  Help to educate family, friends and physicians about the preferred way to refer to your  child. 

Examples of People First Language 


Instead of: 

People with disabilities. 

The handicapped or disabled. 

He has a cognitive disability (diagnosis). 

He's mentally retarded. 

He has a diagnosis of Down syndrome. 

He's Down's. 

She has a learning disability (diagnosis). 

She's learning disabled. 

She's of short stature/she's a little person. 

She's a dwarf/midget. 

He has a mental health diagnosis. 

He's emotionally disturbed/mentally ill. 

She uses a wheelchair/mobility chair. 

She's confined/wheelchair bound. 

He receives special ed services. 

He's in special ed. 

She has a developmental delay. 

She's developmentally delayed. 

Kids without disabilities. 

Normal or healthy kids. 

Communicates with her eyes/device/etc. 

Is non-verbal. 


Client, consumer, recipient, etc. 

Congenital disability 

Birth defect 

Brain injury 

Brain damaged 

Accessible parking, hotel room, etc. 

Handicapped parking, hotel room, etc. 

She needs... or she uses... 

She has problems/special needs. 

Down Syndrome Guild of Southeast Michigan

P.O. Box 28 Royal Oak, MI 48068
Office: (248) 556-5341


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