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Disabilities, Neurodiversity, and Chronic Illness

traumatic brain injury (TBI)

A traumatic brain injury is an injury due to an external force that disrupts brain function. “Brain injury” is clearer and less stigmatizing than “brain damage,” which can imply a deficiency and is not always medically accurate.

universal design

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.

victim / sufferer (disabilities and illnesses)

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.

women and medicine

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. 

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

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