Support statewide movement for student equity: End stigma of lifelong labels by using People First Language
March 24, 2019
Whereas, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) states that “Special Education is a service, not a place;” and
Whereas, as their Project Based Learning (PBL) project, students from El Rancho High School in Pico Rivera have requested the removal of any special education label, while increasing rigorous A-G curriculum coursework, academic awards upon graduation, and preparation for continuing education; and
Whereas, El Rancho High School students exposed their true selves only to be told that speaking from the heart was good but not enough, and they needed to go back and learn how many students supported through the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or Individual Education Programs (IEPs) have been helped and why services were created; and
Whereas, El Rancho High School students were not asked how the label has limited their education or social existence but they explored this topic with their peers through their PBL project; and
Whereas, Parker Palmer states in his book, A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward An Undivided Life, Welcoming the Soul and Weaving Community in a Wounded World (2004): “…individuals hide behind a wall in order for others not to see their true self”; and
Whereas, students supported through the ADA or IEP have been told by teachers, peers, and family members they are dumb, lazy, or stupid, succumbing to the belief they are special; and
Whereas, students supported through the ADA or IEP have not only been segregated or isolated from the general education population in classes and campus locations including separate schools or wings, but also from social circles due to their special label; and
Whereas, labels have become a stigma that identify an individual as less than normal, not only during their K-12 education, but the stigma can also last a lifetime, altering an individual’s self-image and future possibilities; and
Whereas, students who are labeled experience limited future options due to classes offered, low expectations, socio-emotional mindset, and the failure to self-advocate; and
Whereas, intellectual disability labels such as mentally retarded, moron, idiot, imbecile, cretin, and mentally challenged have been eliminated; and
Whereas, according to Office of Special Education, Rosa’s Law (Pub. L. 111-256), signed in 2010, amended sections of the IDEA, and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended (Rehabilitation Act), by removing the words “mental retardation” and replacing them with the words “intellectual disability” or “intellectual disabilities”; and
Whereas, many students who have been labeled due to behaviors have average or above average IQs; and
Whereas, many students with undiagnosed dyslexia have average or above average IQs are supported through the ADA or IEP not as a result of their diverse abilities and/or unique needs but as a result of the educational system’s failure to provide appropriate curriculum instruction; and
Whereas, many schools focus on trying to remediate a student’s perceived deficits instead of strengthening the student’s abilities; and
Whereas, all students need support throughout their K-12 educational journey and all students have a right to educational equity; and
Whereas, students should not be defined by their diverse abilities and/or unique needs, medical diagnoses, or physical or socio-emotional barriers; and
Whereas, the “special needs” descriptor is used as an insult and creates a stigma and with the realization that any word used to label can lead to negative consequences; and
Whereas, according to the Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities “in an effort to end discrimination and segregation—in employment, education and our communities at large…it is important to eliminate prejudicial language”; and
Whereas, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that “People First Language is used to speak appropriately and respectfully about an individual with a disability. People First Language emphasizes the person first not the disability”; and
Whereas, the use of People First Language originated in the early 1970s by adults with developmental disabilities in the People First/Self-Advocacy Movement and reflects the belief that people with disabilities are not their disabilities, but each is a person first, and People First Language is more than a fad or political correctness; and
Whereas, according to Kathie Snow, considered the gold standard on this topic, “People First Language is not political correctness; instead, it demonstrates good manners, respect, the Golden Rule, and more—it can change the way we see a person, and it can change the way a people sees themselves!”; and
Whereas, Snow supports the El Rancho High School students and the CFT to remove labels, and
Whereas, the CFT acknowledges and supports the removal of the labeling; of students, teachers, and classrooms with the adoption and promotion of educational equity through the use of People First Language; now;
Therefore, be it resolved, that the California Federation of Teachers adopt the use of People First Language in all documents, departments, and identification of students, teachers, and classrooms thus supporting the removal of stigmas and lifelong labels for individuals supported through the ADA or an IEP; and
Be it further resolved, that the CFT urges other organizations to adopt similar verbiage supporting the removal of stigmas and lifelong labels for all individuals; and
Be it further resolved, that the CFT will continuously challenge any derogatory associations that describe a disability before the person; and
Be it further resolved, that the CFT supports the El Rancho High School students for their self-advocacy in eliminating stigmas and lifelong labels associated with special education verbiage; and
Be it further resolved, that the CFT believes the ultimate goal is for all individuals to live in a society where no wall divides and where no one needs to hide behind their true self. Living in the shadows of others can hinder a person’s full potential; and
Be it further resolved, that the CFT believes in the right of all individuals to define who they are; and
Be it further resolved, that the CFT supports educational equity for all students; and
Be it finally resolved, that the CFT supports the removal of labels that do not alter in any way federal funding or accommodated services through the ADA or IEPs.
- Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, Pub. L. No. 101-336, 104 Stat. 328 (1990).
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (n.d.). Communicating with and about People with Disabilities.
- Crippledscholar. (2015, March 3). Why I don’t use People First Language: A brief history of my relationship with the language and disability. [online blog] Retrieved from https://crippledscholar.com/2015/03/03/why-i-dont-use-people-first-language-a-brief-history-of-my- relationship-with-the-language-and-disability/
- Homeroom, The official blog of the US Department of Education. (2014, May 20). Special education is Not a place.
- Palmer, P. J. (2004). A hidden wholeness: The journey toward an undivided life: Welcoming the soul and weaving community in a wounded world. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
- Snow, K. (n.d.). Disability is Natural.
- Texas Council on Disabilities. (n.d.). People First Language.
- Wrightslaw. (2010, May 3). Special Education: NOT the
Resource Room, the classroom in the trailer, or the special
school across town. [online blog]. Retrieved from
– Passed as Resolution 25 by CFT Convention on March 24,
– Submitted by the Executive Council