Disability Language Style Guide – Resource for Occupational Therapy and Healthcare Bloggers


In my research on person-first language vs identity-first language (read blog post here), I stumbled upon a Disability Language Style Guide created by the National Center on Disability and Journalism at Walter Cronkit School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

Evolving Language

Even as a healthcare provider, I have found that anecdotally language and terminology has been evolving and changing at a faster pace than before. This is likely due to the Internet, social media, and recent movements such as BLM, Latinx, and transgender rights. More communities and groups are able to be connected via the Internet and give each group a voice and allow them to advocate for their rights.

The Style Guide

The goal of this resource is to provide support and guidance intended for journalists covering people with disabilities, but it is also applicable to bloggers. The Style Guide provides suggestions on appropriate language to use and brief descriptions of the disability-related terms.

The Style Guide covers almost 200 words and terms.

According to the NCDJ, writers should:

  • Refer to a disability only when it’s relevant to the story and when the diagnosis comes from a reputable source, such as a medical professional or other licensed professional.
  • When possible, use people-first language unless otherwise indicated by the source.
  • When possible, ask the source how he or she would like to be described. If the source is not available or unable, ask a trusted family member or relevant organization that represents people with disabilities.
  • Avoid made-up words like “diversability” and “handicapable” unless using them in direct quotes or to refer to a movement or organization.

I can see myself referencing this resource frequently as I will be writing more about specific conditions, disabilities, and more on the macro-level (groups, and populations). This resource is free and can be accessed here. It is also available as a PDF download and in Spanish.