Universal design is the practice of designing environments and products that are most usable to most people, regardless of differences like ability/disability or age. Universal design includes features such as curb cuts in sidewalks or closed captioning on televisions. Websites and other virtual spaces can also be constructed with a universal design perspective, which may influence everything from button or icon size to color contrast and font.
The term “victim” should be used with caution in the context of people with disabilities. Following the person’s preferred terminology whenever possible aligns your framing with their lived experience.
Due to a variety of reasons, women and feminine-presenting people may face different kinds of discrimination within the health care system. Consideration of the forces that can continue to shape women’s experiences within the health care system is important when writing about a woman’s experience with an illness or disability. For instance, an understanding of the reasons a woman’s diagnosis may be delayed can help avoid language that diminishes or dismisses her symptoms, regardless of whether she has an official diagnosis.
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.
Ableism is discrimination and social prejudice against people with disabilities. Ableist language refers to individual words and phrases (like “dumb” or “crazy”) as well as metaphors or expressions (such as “emotionally crippled”) that perpetuate negative stereotypes about people with disabilities. Unless it is intrinsic to a story, it is usually not necessary to comment on the assumed healthiness or unhealthiness of a person. Using disability-specific terms only in the context of disability, rather than to describe unrelated issues or ideas, helps avoid these pitfalls.
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.
“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.
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