People First: Language and Understanding


People First: Language and Understanding

Language matters.  The way we talk about about people, challenges, and solutions shapes how we think. You are a person, so is everyone else. At Trailnet, we encourage everyone to use specific language that puts the person first.

A person who bikes.

A person who walks.

A person who uses a wheelchair.

A person who drives a car.

Putting the term “person” first is a small step to value the person you’re describing as an individual human being more than applying a generic label.

At first this feels clunky. It’s quicker to say “cyclist,” “pedestrian,” or “driver” than it is to say “person who bikes,” “person walking,” or “person who drives.” In the same way it’s easier to think of each of these groups as one big block.

It takes effort and patience to try understanding another person. It’s easy to slap on a label and move on with your day. In moments of stress it’s easy to say: “That jerk driver cut me off,” “that reckless cyclist blew that stop sign.”

Trying to acknowledge the individuality and humanity of the other person is an important step to understand their views and values. That important understanding is what paves the way for collaboration, creative compromise and the solutions we need for the St. Louis community.

This all starts with how we talk, but then goes from there.

At Trailnet, this people-first approach applies to our planning, design and advocacy work. Our streets should be built for – and used by – everyone, not just people driving cars.

This approach also extends beyond our conversations on walking, biking, and using transit. It applies to issues of race, politics, faith, class, health, and more.

People-first language was developed by activists during the HIV/AIDS epidemic and has been promoted by advocacy groups that work to empower marginalized communities including people with disabilities, people with addiction, people experiencing homelessness, and other groups at work to reduce dehumanizing language.

With all this in mind, the labels that we apply to ourselves and the communities we are a part of are all important to our identities. Being a cyclist could be an important part of how you see yourself. Even more; your race, belief background, occupation, gender, sexual orientation, age and many more facets of a complex life shape your personal identity.

Using people-first language doesn’t diminish those parts of an individual’s personal identity. Instead is tries to put their personhood first and foremost.

Changing how we talk about issues is a small, but foundational part of working towards solutions.

We are all people, so let’s put people first.