I recently came upon this helpful style guide for writing about people with disabilities. It’s geared toward members of the press, but useful for anyone who might be writing about disabilities in general.
The style guide has a helpful A to Z list of common terms, their backgrounds, and recommendations for how to use them when referring to people with disabilities. There are a couple of common themes among their recommendations:
- Use people-first language. This means you should use phrases such as “a person with a visual impairment” rather than “a visually impaired person.”
- Only refer to the disability if it’s relevant to the story. One example they use is that of residents of a neighborhood complaining about noisy airplanes flying overhead. One of the residents uses a wheelchair, but that fact isn’t relevant to the story because it has nothing to do with the noisiness of the airplanes.
- Most people don’t appreciate being describe as being impaired, disabled, special needs, etc. They may have an impairment or a disability, but they are not impaired or disabled. This goes back to the first point.
- Be careful not to use outdated slang that may be offensive. Avoid words such as gimp, spaz, deaf and dumb, insane, crazy, etc.
- When in doubt, consult the style guide. It’s loaded with helpful advice and examples.