People First or Identity First Language

When we talk about people with a learning difficulty, we use ‘people first’ language (rather than using a condition or a trait as a label or defining attribute, we speak about it as something a person has). For example, we would say ‘we are people with a learning difficulty’ rather than ‘we are learning disabled adults’.  This is because we find learning difficult, but if we are given the right support and opportunities, we are not disabled by this difficulty.

When we talk about people who have an Autistic Spectrum Condition, we might say “we have autism” but we might also say “we are autistic”.  People have different opinions on what they prefer. Read what the National Autistic Society say about this.

Whenever we are talking about an individual, if unsure, we should ask them how they identify and what language they prefer. We should encourage discussion about this as this will help us understand what people prefer or find offensive. Often, people are scared to “get it wrong” or offend people with their language.

The Art of Respectful Language is also helpful for thinking about how describe people, any conditions they might have, and how that affects them. 

bemix's Language Guide

We have been working with heart-led copywriters Moka Pot Copy to develop a Language Guide to help us use consistent, empowering, positive language in bemix.  This includes talking about the work we do and the people in the organisation.

We love working with Moka Pot as they see copywriting as a means of activism, just as we do.  Read their blog article on this subject.

As part of the Language Guide, we have Word Bank where we list the words and phrases we use and those we avoid using. This is a collaborative document, continually being added to by people across bemix.

Here is an example below.  We will be adding to this page as we get more suggestions from people. 

Do use

Avoid using

Individual with a range of interests, abilities, qualities, achievements and ambitions

If describing someone’s qualities, be personal. Think about that person as an individual. Don’t generalise or stereotype.


The connotations are patronising

Person we work alongside (or, preferably, just “person”)

This breaks down the “us and them” nature of social care and focuses on the individual. It values people’s contribution equally.

Service User/client/customer

These contradict our key values of co-production and equality.

Service User is the most passive and should always be avoided.

How you feel about certain words and phrases? 

Add your comments in the comment box below.