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Inclusive Language

Person-First or Identity-First Language?

When referring to someone’s identity, terminology generally falls into two categories: person-first language and identity-first language. Although this conversation on person-first language and identity-first language began when referring to people with disabilities, this language has broadened to include other types of identities.

  • Person-first language: Refers to the person first and the identity second. For example: “The writer, who is disabled,” as opposed to “the disabled writer.” 
  • Identity-first language: Refers to the person’s identity first and the person second. For example, “disabled people'' versus “people with disabilities.” 

Depending on the person and the type of identity you are discussing, sometimes person-first language will be preferred, while others would appreciate identity-first language. People who prefer person-first language do so as it “puts the person before the [identity], and describes what a person has, not who a person is.” Meanwhile, people who prefer identity-first language consider their identity to be inseparable parts of who they are. Ultimately, if it is necessary to describe a person’s identity, it is best left to the individual who holds the identity to determine which language use they prefer. Also, if you are describing or writing about someone’s identity, only note the identity if it is relevant.

Below are several scenarios in which person-first language may be appropriate (APA Inclusive Language Guidelines p. 6):




survivor person who has experienced…

person who has been impacted by…


person who uses a wheelchair

mentally ill person

living with a mental health condition

person with a mental disorder

person with a mental illness

abusive relationship

relationship with a person who is abusive


person with a substance use disorder

homeless person

person without housing


person who engages in sex work

prisoner, convict

person who is/has been incarcerated


person who is/was enslaved

Terminology around identity is constantly changing and is dependent on what aspect of a person’s identity is being referenced. Note when reading this guide whether the language is person-first or identity-first, but sometimes there will not be a “right” way to describe someone’s identity.

Ultimately, inclusive language is about more than replacing specific words with more acceptable terms; it’s about changing offensive long-held attitudes and habits. The following guide is meant to help you navigate how to use language properly, but is not meant to serve as an end-all-be-all. It takes personal responsibility and works to unlearn deeply held notions and beliefs that can be offensive to some.

For additional assistance, questions or clarification, please be sure to contact the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at For further information, we suggest our Pratt faculty and staff take the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion (DEI) Allies Training Certificate Program, which educates the Pratt community on important terms and concepts integral to an in-depth understanding of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

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