Many people have intersecting identities and may choose not to share all of those identities in your communications. When possible, it is strongly recommended that you ask people how they prefer to be described, and which identities they would like to include. As a brand communicator, it is also important to consider context. Is noting someone's characteristics or identity relevant to your piece?
Language around disability is evolving. Miami University brand communicators may need to make decisions, based on necessity and audience, on terms that differ from or are not covered by the AP's specific recommendations.
Include disability language when the story surrounds a disability-related topic or the individual wishes to include their disability as a part of their identity. Otherwise, treat disability like any other social identity (race, gender, etc.) to understand if it is relevant to the story.
When using a description, it may be appropriate to note the specific disability or symptoms.
- Actor Michael J. Fox swayed noticeably from the effects of Parkinson's disease.
Avoid negative descriptions that connote pity, such as afflicted with, battling, suffers. Avoid cliches such as inspiring and brave, and avoid phrases like "overcame their disability." Focus on discussing the social and accessibility realities of the disability experience versus overemphasizing the specific impairments of the disability, unless it is relevant to the topic.
Do not assume a person is being untruthful about their disability because you do not see "evidence." Many disabilities are not apparent, such as learning and psychological disabilities.
Person-first and identity-first are two language styles used when communicating about disability. When possible, defer to the person included in the communication.
Identity-first language acknowledges disability as a cultural identity that should be embraced and celebrated. Some people refer to themselves as "a disabled person," or "disabled" as an indication that disability is a salient part of their identity.
When appropriate and possible, defer to the person included in the communication as to how they would like to be referred.
- "a blind man" vs. "a man who is blind"
Person-first language mentions the person first and then the disability. It is generally the preferred use unless a personal preference is indicated or the subject matter is related to disability culture and justice.
- "a man who is blind" vs. "a blind man"
General Terms to Know
This list is not all-inclusive; it can serve as a framework by which to consider other words.
Never use. Considered offensive when used to describe a person who is disabled. Instead, use the term "non-disabled."
Autism Spectrum Disorder
An umbrella term for a group of developmental disorders that can involve varying degrees of language and social impairments, and repetitive behaviors. It encompasses mild autism and the more classic form.
Autism and autistic are acceptable terms to use.
Describes a person with complete or nearly complete loss of sight. For others, use "person with low vision."
Never use. Considered offensive when used to describe a person who is disabled.
Describes a person with a complete or significant hearing loss. For others, use the term "hard of hearing." Generally, use the lowercase deaf when referencing the audiological condition.
- Some people, who became deaf later in life, refer to themselves as "late-deafened."
Some people do not consider deafness as a disability, and in these instances, Deaf should be written with a capital "D." Members of this community consider being Deaf as solely a cultural identity and physical difference that is not a disability. Generally, these individuals use sign language as their primary language.
Generally, capitalize Deaf when referring to a particular group of deaf people who share ASL culture.
- Activists within Deaf culture believe the hearing society puts too much pressure on spoken word communication.
deaf-mute, deaf and dumb
Never use. Considered offensive.
A general term used for a physical, mental, developmental, or intellectual disability.
Never use. Considered offensive. In lieu of handicap entrance or handicap parking, use accessible entrance or accessible parking.
Often considered an offensive term. Only use this when it is an individual preference. Prefer the term "hard of hearing."
Refers to a number of disorders that may affect the acquisition, organization, retention, understanding, or use of verbal or nonverbal information. These disorders include, but are not limited to oral language, reading, writing, problem-solving, and social interactions.
If the mention of an individual's learning disability is needed, be as specific as possible:
- John learned he had dyslexia at the age of 7.
- Jane, who has Dyscalculia, became an advocate for student resources in her local community.
Never use. Prefer the term "non-speaking" to describe a person who cannot speak.
People with Down syndrome
Should always be referred to as people first. Instead of "a Down syndrome person," use "a person with Down syndrome." Never use "Down's person" or describe the condition as "Down's."
Note: Down is always capitalized.
Never use. The word "special" in relation to those with disabilities is now widely considered offensive. Prefer the terms access needs or disability access needs when required.
Avoid using ableist terms like differently-abled, special needs, specially-abled, or disability. This language derives from a societal belief that disability is negative. The word "disability'' should not be thought of as a negative word.
A person who uses a wheelchair. Do not use "confined to a wheelchair" or "wheelchair-bound." If a wheelchair is needed, and relevant, say why.
Disability and Medicine
There are two common models of disability, the medical model and the social model, specifically used to explain how medicine seeks to cure disability.
The medical model focuses on the individual impairment, a medicalized view of disability, and characterizes the person as someone to be pitied or that is "superhuman."
The social model of disability recognizes disability as an identity with specific cultural, social, and political realities and acknowledges society's role in creating disability access. It is important to create content that is aligned with the social model of disability and avoid a medicalized lens.
For additional guidance, consult with the Miller Center for Student Disability Services.