People with Disabilities

Let’s Talk: Disability Language

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). We take this opportunity to highlight the many contributions of America’s workers with disabilities and promote a culture of inclusiveness.

 

One out of five people in America has a disability, making them our nation’s largest “minority.” The group represents all ages, genders, ethnicities, and socioeconomic levels. The likelihood of joining this group is high. Disability can be acquired at birth, in the blink of an eye due to an accident or injury, or acquired from illness or age.

 

Despite its frequency, many people are still uncomfortable talking about disability. This uncomfortableness contributes to the obstacles that people with disabilities face in obtaining employment or fully integrating with their workforce. The truth is that there are as many preferences about ways to identify a person with a disability as there are individuals. So what is a well-intentioned person to do? When in doubt: ask. We’ll get to that in a minute, but first, let’s talk about two distinct (and oft-debated) approaches to disability language.

Person-First Language (PFL)

People-first language is generally at the heart of our organization’s disability awareness training. The emphasis is on the person – not the disability or condition. Those who support people-first language (PFL) believe that using a diagnosis or condition as a defining characteristic robs the person of the opportunity to define him or herself. PFL was developed to address the stigma often associated with disability. Advocates wanted to reaffirm that disability does not, in fact, lessen one’s personhood. As such, the PFL movement encourages the use of phrases like “person with a disability,” or “person with autism” instead of “disabled person” or “autistic person.”

 

The disability community is not only large; it is often divided. Increasingly, a second preference is being voiced: Identity-First Language (IFL).

Identity-First Language (IFL)

For those who prefer identity-first language, “disabled person” is a perfectly acceptable way to identify a person. Their belief is that PFL purposefully separates a person from their disability, presuming that disability is something a person should dissociate from to be considered a whole person.

 

From their perspective, it also implies that “disability” or “disabled” are negative, derogatory words when, for many, disability is just a part of their being or uniqueness. Within the Autistic community, IFL is preferred by many when Autism is considered as a part of a person’s identity. Using IFL language, you would say that someone is “Autistic,” not a “person with autism.” However, even people with IFL preferences draw an important distinction when it comes to the use of a term strictly for its medical definition. You would never refer to a person based on a diagnosis such as “Down syndrome person” or “cerebral palsy person.”

 

Confused? You are not alone. So what’s a person to do?

JUST ASK.

The debate between PFL and IFL is proof that words do matter. Language, however, is never “one-size-fits-all.” When in doubt, do not assume. Ask the person how they choose to identify.


Words and language are powerful tools. Language, and the meanings we attach to words, have the power to influence, develop, and change attitudes and beliefs. Each person’s use of language and identity are deeply personal. Just ask and respect their choice.

 

Quick note: Always avoid terms that dis-empower people or have negative meanings like “handicapped,” “wheelchair-bound,” “crippled,” etc. And please, never use the “R” word. The word “retarded” is a highly offensive term for people with intellectual disabilities.

For more information about People-First and Identity-First Language, here are two more:

 

Why Person-First Language Doesn’t Always Put the Person First

Identity-First Language

Did You Know?

One out of five people in America has a disability, making them our nation’s largest “minority.”

Ramon’s story in filled with survival and perseverance. As the result of a long battle with cancer, Ramon developed blindness in one eye, which hindered his ability to find work. His journey brought him to PRIDE Industries, which offers individualized support, guidance, and resources to people with disabilities looking for a meaningful job and brighter future.

Employment Barriers for People with Disabilities

At the young age of ten, doctors diagnosed Ramon with a brain tumor. After multiple surgeries, radiation, and chemotherapy treatments, the tumor subsided. Although Raymond had won his battle against cancer, he spent much of his teen years in Mexican hospitals. The cancer also took away most of his sight in his right eye. “My left eye is okay, but the right one, I cannot see with it,” Ramon said. “With my right eye I see darkness.”

 

Seeking a new beginning and better life, his family relocated to the U.S. in 2001. In this country, Ramon faced new challenges: learning a new language, navigating a new city with a disability, and struggling with financial instability. 

 

“I never worked; I stayed home,” said Ramon. Many people with disabilities who are unsure where to turn to find a job face this common scenario.

 

Despite many challenges, Ramon began looking for work and got a job at a fast food restaurant making hamburgers. But his triumph was short-lived. Due to lack of accessibility, the restaurant let Ramon go after just three days. His vision made it nearly impossible for him to see the monitor where orders appeared. Understandably, Ramon was devastated.

Ramon began working for PRIDE in the manufacturing department almost immediately

“This company changed my life, and I thank you very much.”

Connecting People with Disabilities to Work Opportunities

Fortunately, Ramon sought assistance at a local vocational services agency that referred him to PRIDE Industries. 

 

Following a model of social enterprise, PRIDE offers manufacturing, distribution and facilities service solutions to businesses and public agencies while creating meaningful jobs for people with disabilities. With the support of management and trainers, PRIDE empowers people like Ramon to develop professionally, creating a foundation for the rest of their working lives.

 

Ramon did not have to wait long for a job at PRIDE — he began working in the manufacturing department almost immediately. For two years, Ramon worked on a variety of packaging, assembly, and order fulfillment projects at PRIDE headquarters in Roseville, CA.

 

During this time, he also attended night school to learn conversational English. Once he felt comfortable with his language skills, he studied for the citizenship test. In 2007, he took the test and passed, becoming a United States citizen.

Still, Ramon wanted more for himself. His seemingly never-ending energy and aptitude for the work led him to pursue other opportunities within PRIDE.

A Promising Future Thanks to Meaningful Work

“Eight years ago, when we began PRIDE’s high-volume shipping line, we were searching for a skilled hand-packager,” said his supervisor, Matthew Weiss. “Ramon was eager to apply his skills to our new service offering.”

 

With the position came new challenges. “When I first started, I was confused, and I made boxes too big,” he said. But Ramon learned rapidly and surpassed expectations. 

 

“We discovered his talent for making boxes and making them quickly,” said Weiss. As simple as it sounds, the complex folds can confound many.

 

Ramon embraced the opportunity. “I got a permanent position in the shipping department,” said Ramon. “It changed my life.” 

 

He now has financial independence and, most importantly, health insurance to cover his routine medical expenses. “I get paid vacations, too,” he said. Plus, he is saving for his retirement through his 401K account. “I am happy because I am making money, and I have a 401K.”

 

Ramon has been part of the shipping team for eight years now. His co-workers call him ‘Speedy Gonzales’ because of his rapid box assembly. 

 

“What makes Ramon so amazing is that he can succeed despite having extensive vision loss,” said Weiss. “We estimate that he makes over 1,000 boxes per day!”

 

Despite all he has endured and daily challenges he still faces, Ramon is an optimistic individual who focuses on his blessings. He remembers his good fortune when he visits family in Mexico. “In Mexico there are no jobs. In my hometown, many people are poor.” 

 

“I am happy here,” he said. “In the United States, I have the opportunity to work.” He is also grateful his tumor has not returned and that he was able to find work with PRIDE. 

PRIDE's coaching, training, and placement programs

If you’re struggling to find a job due to a disability or other barrier to employment, get in touch with PRIDE Industries. We provide coaching, training, placement services, and more to start you on your path to success.

Connie Lewis, a job coach at PRIDE Industries, had a rough start in life. Born to an underprivileged family in Alabama, her parents struggled to provide for their three young daughters. To make ends meet, Connie’s family lived with her grandmother. Life was not easy.

 

Connie’s mother had a hunch that one of her little girls was hard-of-hearing. She also seemed to be developing a speech impediment. Unfortunately, the family was unable to provide the necessary medical care and quality of life she deserved. At five years old, Connie was put up for adoption.

 

After her adoption, life quickly changed for Connie. Her adoptive parents provided a new beginning. Connie’s adoptive mother was a speech therapist and an audiologist. Soon after her adoption, Connie received a set of hearing aids that also helped her gain speech. The use of hearing aids provided a completely new world for Connie.

 

Connie did her best to adjust to her new life while maintaining a relationship with her biological family. After graduating from high school, Connie attended the Alabama School for the Deaf where she met her husband, who is also deaf. They married and had two daughters. For the first few years, Connie stayed at home with her daughters. When she decided to join the workforce, Connie struggled to find and keep employment due to her disability. Connie never complained; she focused on the future, knowing she would find the right opportunity.

 

On April 2013, Connie connected with the PRIDE Industries team at Fort Rucker, Alabama. Connie was hired as a job coach providing American Sign Language (ASL) translation at the base.

 

“This is what I was looking for,” Connie says. “I can practice using ASL with PRIDE’s deaf employees while helping with their job needs.” Job coaches are dedicated and talented individuals who understand individuals’ unique needs and provide support to ensure success at work.

 

“Connie was a huge part of the Fort Rucker start-up as she helped our employees with disabilities transition into their new jobs,” says Stephany Marshall, a PRIDE Rehabilitation Counselor, and Connie’s supervisor. “She has played a vital role as a facilitator in communication between our employees who are deaf and their supervisors and co-workers.”

 

PRIDE’s mission to help individuals with a wide range of disabilities succeed at work; assistive technologies play a vital role in supporting individuals with hearing or sight challenges. P3™ enabled tablets and mobile devices provide on-demand live ASL translator for better communication at work. Connie was supplied with a tablet loaded with P3™ communication software as additional support for hard-of-hearing and deaf employees at the base.

 

PRIDE’s structured support services include job coaches, case managers, counselors, and supervisors who understand each person’s strengths and challenges. Support services help individuals get the assistance they need and remove obstacles to employment.

 

Connie is motivated by helping others find success and self-esteem; she finds fulfillment in her work at PRIDE.

 

“Connie attributes her love for the job to her disability; having been hearing impaired her whole life and unable to verbally communicate until the age of five,” Marshall says. “Connie can relate to and understand the obstacles and challenges individuals with disabilities experience.” 

Need employment placement support?

Contact our I AM ABLE Helpline to discuss your options.

Did You Know?

PRIDE’s structured support services include job coaches, case managers, counselors, and supervisors who understand each person’s strengths and challenges.

“This is what I was looking for. I can practice using ASL with PRIDE’s deaf employees while helping with their job needs”

Andrew (Andy) Emore joined the PRIDE Industries team at Joint Base McGuire–Dix–Lakehurst (JB-MDL), NJ, in March of 2013 as a Grounds Maintenance Laborer. Within his first year, his hard work was recognized and he earned a promotion to Tractor Operator.


Andy was born deaf to parents who are also deaf; he identifies with deaf culture.  In his early educational years, he was mainstreamed in a school that had a small group of children who were deaf.  Andy was with this group until third grade. Due to a lack of funding and budget cuts, he was forced to go to another school where he was the only deaf student. “It was very frustrating,” Andy said, “every day was more of a struggle to get the teachers to understand my deafness instead of me being able to learn from them and focus on my studies. Now looking back, schooling was a struggle due to misconceptions and a lack of awareness of my deafness and my disability. They didn’t think that I could actually do the same things as other students.”


“Because of a lot of my experiences and challenges growing up, I became dependent on alcohol. My deafness and dependency on alcohol impeded my ability to keep long-standing employment. Now I am a recovering alcoholic, five years sober, thanks to a strong core of support: my family and my close friend, who actively served this country for over 10 years. I also grew up in a military family. This instilled in me a great respect. Even though I cannot directly serve in the military, it is an honor to support the members of military and their family by maintaining the base. The job that I do is not comparable to the sacrifice that they make for us every day.”

Andy Emore

“Working for PRIDE Industries has given me the confidence to find success in potential and in failure.”

“From the first day of my PRIDE orientation, I was welcomed wonderfully. I am grateful to have been hired at PRIDE Industries; I have received unlimited support. PRIDE doesn’t just hire people with disabilities; they really know how to support and accommodate. Job coaches, who are also interpreters, have always been there to help facilitate communication and even clarify training where needed. The rehabilitation staff supports, encourages and advocates for people with disabilities, and they help them succeed by overcoming challenges. Every day, I’m still amazed at the support I receive. Personally, I feel finally someone gets it. Those in my environment and company don’t just perceive it as their jobs, and they don’t just draw the line with advocacy, but they help us stomp out the stigma of what it means to be a person with a disability. PRIDE’s mission helps us feel like a person – not just a number.”

 

“I believe in myself a lot more, and know that it is okay to do well. I have always known that I was capable, but working for PRIDE Industries has given me the confidence to find success in potential and in failure. As a Tractor Operator, I now get to work with other operators and members of the Grounds department. Since winter is coming, I am also a member of the snow removal team. I like working with big machines because my dad was a mechanic for 40 years and I grew up around all the large equipment (I was the breaker, and he was the fixer).  My long term goal is to become a Heavy Equipment Operator.”

 

With the support of his Department of Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor, and the on-the-job training he has received at PRIDE, Andy is already taking steps towards this goal. He says, “I always wanted to be outside working on the big toys. It makes me happy to be able to work with others with challenges similar and different to my own. Owning my own home and the opportunity to make a good steady income until retirement is also in my plans.”

 

“One of the biggest misconceptions people have about deafness is that it affects intelligence. To anyone reading this; don’t doubt yourself- give yourself the chance you need to succeed. We were all born with different challenges for different reasons, and everyone has a purpose. I look forward to each and every day coming to work, to learn new things and be able to bring my abilities to the table.”

 

Need employment placement support?

Contact our I AM ABLE Helpline to discuss your options.

Today, valued customers and community leaders joined us for the opening and dedication of a new PRIDE Industries Training Facility at Ft. Bliss, Texas. The training center is designed to offer hands-on, advanced training in various facilities maintenance trades to PRIDE’s employees working at Ft. Bliss under a Directorate of Public Works (DPW) contract through the AbilityOne program.

 

AbilityOne (formerly Javits-Wagner-O’Day, or JWOD), is a federal program designed to create employment opportunities for people with severe disabilities. PRIDE employs more than 140 individuals on the contract, which creates jobs for people with, and without, disabilities.

 

The new training center is an open architecture building-within-a-building on the base. It will provide concentrated skills training in light carpentry, carpentry, electrical, plumbing skills and more. Training is available to all new and existing PRIDE employees, providing opportunities for growth and career advancement. In a true show of camaraderie and team spirit, the center was created by an all-volunteer team of PRIDE employees who were formally recognized for their contributions in a ribbon cutting ceremony.

 

The facility was dedicated in honor of Steve Cener – a former PRIDE employee with a disability who worked at Ft. Bliss in 2007-2008. A devoted employee, Steve passed away in 2008, but not without leaving a significant impression on his supervisors, peers and PRIDE’s President and Chief Executive Officer, Michael Ziegler, to whom he wrote these words…”I wanted to thank you all for the chance to live again…lately I have had no life, no job and no friends. So thank you for giving me the reason to live and hold my head up with pride.”

 

Job training prepares people for employment, helps to ensure quality service to our valued customers – partners in our social mission – and advancement potential for all PRIDE employees. PRIDE’s dedicated employees could have created no greater legacy to Steve, than a brighter future for other employees with disabilities.