Disability Style Guide Expands Coverage

Basic guidelines for covering the disability community.

National Center on Disability and Journalism

By Karen Yin • June 6, 2016


The National Center on Disability and Journalism (NCDJ) released a new style guide in December to help members of the media and other communicators stay on top of the evolving terminology for the disability community.

Located at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, the center has streamlined and expanded its 2010 guide. Many new entries cover mental disabilities and disorders, such as autism spectrum disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and schizophrenia. Examples of language acceptable in a medical context but are inappropriate in others include abnormal, deformity, and dwarf. Joining defective, lame, and special on NCDJ’s list of words to avoid are addict, crazy, and retarded.

Though NCDJ recognizes the debate over people-first language versus identity-first language, its recommendation in all cases is to place the focus on the person first and the disability second.

Refer to a disability or condition only when it is relevant to the story.

According to the style guide, “Disability and people who have disabilities are not monolithic. Avoid referring to the disabled in the same way that you would avoid referring to the Asians, the Jews or the African-Americans. Instead, consider using such terms as the disability community or the disability activist.”

Other basic guidelines include the following:

  • Refer to a disability or condition only when it is relevant to the story.
  • Avoid terminology that suggests that a person suffers from, is afflicted with, or is victimized by their disability.
  • When quoting someone, it is acceptable to include a term you would normally avoid.
  • Choose neutral language, such as does not have a disability instead of able-bodied.
  • When in doubt about the correct terminology for a specific person, ask.

Entries contain notes on how the recommendation compares to those available in the AP Stylebook.

Karen has long wavy hair and is smiling into the camera. She's wearing a gray T-shirt and an aquamarine pendant.Karen Yin is the author of the upcoming book Conscious Language (Little, Brown Spark) and founder of Conscious Style Guide, a resource for inclusive, empowering, and respectful language; Editors of Color, tools for diversifying your staff and sources; and AP vs. Chicago, an irreverent language blog for anyone who “gives a dollar sign, ampersand, exclamation point, and pound sign about style.” She received the 2017 ACES Robinson Prize for furthering the craft of professional editing.


Note: This article originally appeared in Copyediting newsletter and is reproduced with permission from the Pilcrow Group.

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