As intervention specialists, we are expected to speak and write using person-first language. By stating the person first and the disability second, we are making a conscientious, spoken or written effort to recognize the person before recognizing their disability. Throughout my higher education career, this terminology has become second nature to me as well as a norm within the field of special education. However, as I gained more experience, connected with more certified educators, and collaborated with others in my field of study, I noticed something incredibly troubling. Although most individuals in the field of education and society as a whole seem to be moving towards using person-first language, people often fail to grasp the reasoning behind this concept. As an educator, my goal is to touch the lives of students, families, and other professionals by centering my teaching around taking person-first language a step further: seeing the person first by using person-first vision.
This idea first resonated with me after attending an IEP meeting in the winter of 2015. I attended as an advocate with a dear friend of mine who has a blind son. The meeting was full of glowing remarks and conversations about surpassed expectations. As we walked out together, the mother looked at me with complete and utter exhaustion in her face, developing tears in her eyes. Surprised, but empathetic towards her apparent distress, I felt my eyes welt up with tears, too. Despite the fact that her son's teachers described him as progressing in all areas and achieving his goals, she felt that they were undermining his abilities and rating him on a lower scale than his sighted peers. I was confused at first- I had never seen an IEP meeting run so smoothly, presented with such keen detail so professionally. Then, I genuinely considered what she had said. I realized that even with such a meticulously written IEP and a detailed explanation of each section, she could only focus on the intervention specialist's tone, attitude, and relationship with her child. Despite every section of the document being beautifully highlighted and well explained, it was, in hindsight, evident that the intervention specialist was incapacitating the student to ever truly reach a potential of his same-aged, sighted peers. More than anything, her generic, generalized explanation of the student's present level of performance in addition to her lacking attempt to push the student harder is what the parent felt the most from the meeting. She turned to me and said, "They say it doesn't matter that he's blind, but they don't truly see it that way. Please don't underestimate your students when you become a teacher- it's truly the worst thing you can do to a parent."
As an educator, I will use person-first vision as the driving force of everything I do. It will be my highest priority to understand each student's unique strengths and needs. By using this as my driving philosophy, I will a create a rapport with students, leading to a postive, genuinely inclusive environment that fosters creative, individualized learning. Not only will I use this strategy to truly understand and value each student on the most personal level, but I will also make it a personal mission to spread this vision to my future colleagues. I believe that some people possess the capability to see a person first naturally, as I feel I genuinely do, but some people have to train their minds. Regardless, we must all acquire this vision somehow, as we have chosen to become not only educators but perhaps more importantly, advocates.