Resources for Reporters
The resources on this page were developed by the Institute on Disability (IOD) at the University of New Hampshire to increase awareness about the importance of culturally sensitive language and images when reporting about individuals with disabilities and their families.The following guidelines are suggestions for using language in a more sensitive manner that avoids reducing individuals to a series of labels, symptoms, or medical terms. Advocating for media representatives to be aware of how they use language regarding individuals with disabilities and their families does not suppress freedom of speech. Rather, these suggestions are intended to guide media representatives about how words really do make a difference.
The Importance of Putting People First
Media representatives know how important it is to use language carefully. When communicating about individuals, it is good practice to avoid putting a label or condition prior to an individual's name or title. Many subjects that are reported about already use person-first language. Think of all the times you have read or heard something similar to the following examples:
- Susan, who was diagnosed with cancer two years ago, is now in remission.
- Jim experiences memory problems as a result of brain damage caused by a car accident.
- Jenny has fibromyalgia, a condition that causes symptoms such as muscle spasms, pain, weakness and fatigue.
When it comes to reporting about individuals with disabilities and their families, however, it is still far too common to place the disability before the person. Phrases such as 'Jim is a retarded 48-year-old,' is an example of how some communicators still place a disability prior to an individual. Stated simply, person-first language places an individual prior to her or his disability. For example, if Judy has a visual impairment or is blind, you would place Judy first in the sentence even if the story directly deals with her impairment: "Kate and Will's daughter, Judy, is an 18-year-old soccer player who experiences visual impairment."
The following list depicts phrases and terms that are appropriate, given our understanding of person-first language as well as terms and phrases to avoid using:
|PREFERRED ||AVOID |
|accessible parking/accommodations ||handicapped accessible |
|children with disabilities ||special children |
|nondisabled ||able-bodied |
|individual with a disability ||crippled, physically challenged, handicapped |
|individual with epilepsy ||epileptic |
|individual with a learning disability ||slow learner |
|individual with multiple sclerosis (MS) ||person who suffers from MS |
|individual who is blind or visually impaired ||the blind |
|individual who is deaf or hearing impaired ||the deaf |
|individual who uses a wheelchair ||wheelchair-bound/confined to a wheelchair |
|individual of short stature ||dwarf or midget |
|stroke survivor/had a stroke ||stroke victim/suffered from a stroke |
|Individual with dyslexia ||dyslexic |
The following resources provide journalists with the tools they need to communicate effectively and appropriately about individuals with disabilities and topics related to disability issues.
Guidelines: How to Write and Report About People with Disabilities
The University of Kansas' Research and Training Center on Independent Living's guide for preferred disability terminology provides information about respectful and accurate use of language when discussing people with disabilities. In the 8th edition of the brochure, you can access three new sections: "Rosa's Law and the Language of Bullying," "Key Concepts in the Disability Community" and "A Few Exceptions."
The American Press Institute http://www.americanpressinstitute.org/pages/toolbox/
This online resource includes a "Reporter's Toolbox" that provides current information about reporting on issues that relate to diverse populations, including individuals with disabilities.
The American Psychological Association http://www.apastyle.org/disabilities.html
The Committee on Disability Issues in Psychology has created a useful set of guidelines for writing about disabilities in APA journals. While journalists often rely on the Associated Press Stylebook for grammar and language usage, the APA's guidelines provide additional information about using "non-handicapping" language.
The Associated Press http://www.apbookstore.com
The Associated Press Stylebook is widely used among journalists, and includes a section on disabilities.
National Center on Disability and Journalism http://www.ncdj.org/join.html
The National Center on Disability and Journalism (NCDJ) is an independent journalism organization with a mission to educate journalists and educators about disability reporting to produce more accurate, fair and diverse news reporting.