Style Guidance home

Disabilities, Neurodiversity, and Chronic Illness

dwarfism / short stature

Dwarfism or short stature describes a condition in which an adult human’s height is below a certain threshold (typically 4-foot-10). There are several forms of dwarfism, both proportional and disproportional, and short stature can be caused by many factors, including genetic or environmental conditions. The terms “little person,” “person of short stature,” or “dwarf” are the ones now most commonly accepted to describe such conditions, though someone may identify with one, more, or none of these terms. While dwarfism is recognized as a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act, someone diagnosed with dwarfism may not identify as having a disability or being part of a disability community. If necessary and relevant to coverage to include such an identifier, taking into account a person’s preference whenever possible ensures coverage aligns with their lived experience.

hate crime

A hate crime as defined by the Justice Department is “a crime motivated by bias against [perceived or actual] race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or disability.” Since the legal standard for a hate crime is narrow and may be difficult to determine, especially in a breaking news situation, adding hedging language such as “possible” or “alleged” may be necessary until further information is available.


People with HIV or AIDS have long faced stigmas and discrimination. When describing a person with HIV or AIDS, “person with [HIV or AIDS],” “person living with [HIV or AIDS],” or “person who is HIV-positive” is straightforward; following the person’s preferred terminology whenever possible aligns your framing with their lived experience. Disclosing an HIV or AIDS status can have major repercussions for a person’s life. As with disclosing any health condition, it should be done only when relevant and necessary to coverage, and it’s important to confirm with someone whether they are comfortable having their status written about publicly.

intellectual and developmental disabilities

Intellectual and developmental disabilities are disabilities that occur before the age of 18. Developmental disabilities can include physical and/or intellectual delays; the abbreviation IDD is sometimes used to signify that intellectual and other disabilities are present. Developmental disabilities include lifelong conditions such as cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, and fetal alcohol spectrum disorders. Euphemisms like “special,” “special needs,” or “intellectually challenged” are vague and may be perceived as patronizing; language such as “has a developmental disability” or specifying the disability is straightforward and helpful for clarity.

invisible disability

“Invisible disability” usually refers to a disability that is not readily apparent to an outside observer. Unless mentioning an invisible disability is intrinsic to a story or matches how someone self-identifies, saying “disability” covers any and all disabilities, including seemingly invisible ones. Describing someone as invisibly disabled when they have not expressed this as their preference can be seen as prioritizing others’ perception of them over their experience.

medical gaslighting

“Medical gaslighting” describes situations in which a practitioner minimizes or dismisses a patient’s experience of their own symptoms or disorder. Medical gaslighting is frequently viewed as a symptom of implicit bias, a moment when a physician’s entrenched, unexamined prejudices undermine their ability to appropriately diagnose and provide care. Research has shown that women and people of color are far more likely to be misdiagnosed or have their symptoms dismissed, sometimes with fatal effects. Careful coverage may take into account an “official” diagnosis but will also consider the details of someone’s lived experience and systemic factors and entrenched biases that may affect diagnosis and quality of treatment.

medical racism

People of color have long faced different types of discrimination within the medical system, which contributes to disparities in health outcomes, treatment, and life expectancy. Mistrust is based not only on historic instances and generational and community information but also on ongoing implicit bias in the health care system that impacts the care received by a person of color. Consideration of the forces that continue to shape the experiences people of color have within the health care system is important when writing about someone’s experience with an illness or disability.


Neurodivergent is an umbrella term to refer to neurological minorities, including people with ADHD, autism, dyslexia, dysgraphia, Tourette’s syndrome, and tics. The opposite term is “neurotypical.” Equating neurotypicality to being “normal” or having a “healthy” brain can reinforce misleading assumptions and stigma about neurodivergence.


Neurodiversity refers to the presence of many different types of minds throughout the human race, all of which have valuable characteristics. The term aims to categorize autism, ADHD, and other developmental conditions as naturally occurring traits in the human population rather than pathologies to be “cured.” A group or population can be neurodiverse, but a single person cannot, and the term generally isn’t used in a person-first way (e.g., “a person with neurodiversity”). An individual could be referred to as a neurominority or neurologically marginalized, or described with their diagnosis; some also call themselves “neurodivergent.”

palliative care

Palliative care is a type of medical treatment focused on relieving symptoms and pain and managing a serious illness. It is distinct from hospice care in that it can be given at any point within an illness, whereas hospice care is only provided as end-of-life care.

Last updated 08/05/22

Health is not a static, fixed state — it exists on a spectrum, determined by many factors. How disabilities and illnesses are discussed has changed significantly over time, and careful media coverage will take into account that everyone’s experiences and perceptions of those experiences are different, and there is no one “standard” for health.

This section of the Language, Please style guidance aims to provide tools for avoiding common pitfalls and stereotypes when discussing disabilities and illnesses.

This resource was informed by questions and discussions from our own newsrooms. It is a living document that will update and expand over time. It is not meant to be comprehensive or the definitive arbiter of language “rules” but instead aims to give context and inform thoughtful decision-making. Have a suggestion for an update, change, or addition? Please get in touch.

How to use: Browse the whole section or search for the term you need guidance on; click into any term for in-depth context, additional resources, and related terms. 

Get in Touch

Language, Please is a living resource and will be updated regularly. Have a question, suggestion, or addition? We’d love to hear from you.

Find an Inclusivity Reader

Access our inclusivity reader directory here.