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Inclusive Language

Ability and Disability

Disability can be broadly defined as the interaction of physical, psychological, intellectual, and socioemotional differences or impairments with the social environment (World Health Organization, 2001). The members of some groups of people with disabilities—effectively subcultures within the larger culture of disability—have ways of referring to themselves that they would prefer others to adopt. The overall principle for using disability language is to maintain the integrity (worth and dignity) of all individuals as human beings (APA, 2020b, p.9).

Each person with a disability has their own preferences for referring to their disability. Some argue for person-first language ("person with a disability"), some advocate for identity-first language ("disabled person"), and others don't care one way or the other. For example, this section uses person-first language. Refer to a disability only when it’s relevant to the story being told. If it is unknown whether a person with a disability prefers person-first language, or identity-first language, emphasize the person first and the disability second.

There are various types of disabilities (e.g., physical, visual, hearing, mental health, visible, invisible, intellectual, learning, and more), each with a particular language. If it is necessary to list a person’s disability, it is best left to the individual to determine which type of language they prefer and, when possible, talk about their specific disability. 

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