People First Language

People First Language (PFL) puts the person before a certain characteristic or diagnosis rather than defining someone by that characteristic or diagnosis. PFL uses phrases such as “person with a disability,” “person with a mental health condition,” and “person age 65 or older,” as opposed to phrases that identify people based solely on one characteristic, such as “the disabled,” “mentally ill person,” and “elderly person.” DHS is committed to using PFL in all communications. 

Note: How someone self-identifies may differ from People First Language, (example: “autistic” instead of “person with autism”), and they should not be corrected.

PFL is also an element of disability etiquette, which refers to respectful communication and interaction with people who have disabilities. The principles of disability etiquette are fairly simple. First and foremost, rely on common sense to guide your interactions with people with disabilities and behave in the same courteous and respectful way with individuals with disabilities that you would with anyone. (For more on disability etiquette, visit

“People First Language is about respect and dignity, and it puts the person – not the condition – first. Like gender and ethnicity, disability is one of many characteristics of being human. PFL is not political correctness, but good manners!” (Source:


People First Language Examples

Say this Instead of this
person with a disability, person with a developmental disability, person with an intellectual disability disabled, developmentally disabled person, intellectually disabled person
person who uses a wheelchair wheelchair user, wheelchair bound
person with autism autistic 
person with a mental health condition mentally ill person
person with schizophrenia schizophrenic person
person with bipolar disorder bipolar person
accessible parking, accessible restrooms handicapped parking, handicapped restrooms
person with a health condition stricken with, a victim of, suffering from a health condition
person with diabetes diabetics
person with substance use disorder addicts
person with a low income poor
person age 65 or older elderly 
person who is unhoused homeless
person who is undocumented illegal