With thanks to my many friends who have talked to me about this, both in person and on various blogs - especially Dave from Rolling Around in My Head and laureldhel from Hoyden About Town.
Putting people first means saying "children with autism" instead of "autistic children" and "people with disabilities" instead of "the disabled".
Remember, just because someone has autism or is disabled doesn't mean that that is the be-all end-all of that person's existence. Zie may also be a baseball player, or a brilliant writer, or love music, or be a die-hard Skins fan, or root for anyone who plays against the Yankees, or all of the above. Zie may have problems unrelated to disability or have an otherwise perfect life. But the point is, zie is a person.
I have found, facing my own biases, that this word order matters. The more I use person-first language, the more I am able to recognize that there is more to a person than the thing that makes that person different from me, whether that difference is in gender, or mobility, or sexual orientation, or heritage, or education level.
Everyone has their own "I Am..." list. Putting people first is a good way to acknowledge that.
Through My Glasses, Dorkily
2 years ago