Disability Glossary

Print

AJAX progress indicator
Search: (clear)
  • (partial) hearing loss/partially deaf
    Hard of hearing is the most common term for those who have a mild to moderate hearing loss that may or may not be corrected with amplification. Ask the individual what term he or she prefers. Otherwise, hard of hearing is almost always acceptable. See hard of hearing.  
  • able-bodied
    This term is used to describe someone who does not identify as having a disability. Some members of the disability community oppose its use because it implies that all people with disabilities lack “able bodies” or the ability to use their bodies well. They prefer non-disabled or enabled as more accurate terms. The term non-disabled or the phrase does not have a disability are more neutral choices. Able-bodied is an appropriate term to use in some cases, such as government reports on the proportion of able-bodied members in the work force.  
  • ableism
    Prejudiced thoughts, attitudes and/or discriminatory actions based on differences in physical, mental and/or emotional ability. Ableism may take the form of improper treatment of people with disabilities, denial of access, or rejection of disabled applicants for housing and jobs. It may also be referred to as disability discrimination, ablecentrism or disability oppression.
  • abnormal/abnormality
    Abnormality is a term used to describe something deviating from what is normal. The term can be appropriate when used in a medical context, such as abnormal curvature of the spine or an abnormal test result. However, when used to describe an individual, abnormal is widely viewed as a derogative term. The phrase abnormal behavior reflects social-cultural standards and is open to different interpretations. The words abnormal or abnormality are acceptable when describing scientific phenomena, such as abnormalities in brain function. However, avoid using abnormal to describe a person. Avoid referring to someone who does not have a disability as a normal person as it implies that people with disabilities are deviant or strange. Typical is a better choice. Be cautious when using the term abnormal behavior. Explain what it means in the context in which it is being used.  
  • accessibility, accessible
    The opportunity to access programs, services and facilities for people with disabilities. The extent to which a facility is usable and approachable for people with disabilities.
  • afflicted with/stricken with/suffers from/victim of
    These terms carry the assumption that a person with a disability is suffering or has a reduced quality of life. Not every person with a disability suffers, is a victim or is stricken. It is preferable to use neutral language when describing a person who has a disability, simply stating the facts about the nature of the disability. Example: He has muscular dystrophy.  
  • Alzheimer's disease
    The Cleveland Clinic defines Alzheimer’s disease as “a progressive and fatal disease in which nerve cells in the brain degenerate and brain matter shrinks, resulting in impaired thinking, behavior and memory.” The Alzheimer’s Association identifies it as the most common form of dementia. Symptoms include disorientation, mood and behavior changes, and confusion. The disease is named after German neurologist Alois Alzheimer, who first identified the disease. The proper term is Alzheimer’s disease, never Alzheimer’s. Disclose that an individual has Alzheimer’s disease only if it is relevant to the story and if the person has been formally diagnosed by a licensed medical professional. Refer to the subject as someone who has Alzheimer’s disease rather than using suffers from or afflicted with. For more information about Alzheimer's Disease click on the Alzheimer's Association's "What is Alzheimer's?" page.      
  • American Sign Language
    A complete language that utilizes “signs made by moving the hands combined with facial expressions and postures of the body,” according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. Many people in North America who are deaf or hard of hearing use it as a primary means of communication. Specify American Sign Language on first reference, capitalizing all three words. ASL is acceptable on second reference.
  • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
    Federal civil rights legislation that was created in 1990 to address discrimination on the basis of disability in employment, public accommodations, transportation and telecommunications as well as state and local government services. Use Americans with Disabilities Act on first reference; ADA is acceptable on second reference. For more information go to ADA.gov.
  • amputation, amputee
    Amputation refers to the removal of a bodily extremity, usually during a surgical operation, for a variety of reasons. Amputee is the acceptable term for someone who has undergone an amputation. Some people have a physical deformity that is not a result of an amputation. Someone with an amputation or amputee are both acceptable.
  • ASL
    See American Sign Language.
  • Asperger's syndrome
    An autism spectrum disorder. It is on the “high functioning” end of the spectrum. According to Autism Speaks, common behaviors include difficulties in social interaction and nonverbal communication, obsession with specific and often unusual topics, and an inability to understand emotional and non-literal issues. The syndrome is named after Austrian pediatrician Hans Asperger. Refer to someone as having Asperger’s syndrome only if the information is relevant to the story and if a licensed medical professional has formally diagnosed the person. If the individual has received a specific diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome, refer to him or her as a person diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome or a person with Asperger’s syndrome. Note the S in syndrome is not capitalized. [Asperger’s Disorder was added to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) in 1994 as a separate disorder from autism. However, there are still many professionals who consider Asperger’s Disorder a less severe form of autism, according to the Autism Society. In 2013, the DSM-5 replaced Autistic Disorder, Asperger’s Disorder and other pervasive developmental disorders with the umbrella diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder.]
  • attention-deficit disorder (ADD)/attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
    ADD and ADHD refer to attention-deficit disorder and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, respectively. Both are common mental disorders that manifest primarily in children, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Common symptoms for both disorders include restlessness, difficulty in focusing or staying organized, and impulsivity. Those with an ADHD diagnosis also exhibit a difficulty in sitting still or engaging in quiet activities. Some debate exists as to the accuracy of an ADHD or ADD diagnosis as an actual disorder. Refer to someone as having attention-deficit disorder or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder only if the information is relevant to the story and if a licensed medical professional has formally diagnosed the person. Use attention-deficit disorder or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder upon first reference; ADD and ADHD are acceptable for each disorder on second reference, respectively.
  • autism/autism spectrum disorders
    A group of complex disorders related to brain development. Common symptoms of autism spectrum disorder include difficulties in communication, impaired social interaction and restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior, interests or activities, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. However, symptoms vary across the spectrum. Some experts classify autism as a developmental disorder rather than a mental illness. Prior to 2013, subtypes of autism such as Asperger’s syndrome, autism disorder and childhood disintegrative disorder were classified as distinct disorders. The fifth edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders consolidates all autism disorders under the larger autism spectrum disorder diagnosis. Opinions vary on how to refer to someone with autism. Some people with autism prefer being referred to as an autistic person; others object to using autistic as an adjective. The Autism Self Advocacy Network details this debate here. Refer to someone as having autistic spectrum disorder only if the information is relevant to the story and if a licensed medical professional has formally diagnosed the person. Ask individuals how they prefer to be described. If in doubt, use people-first language, referring to someone as a person with autism spectrum disorder rather than an autistic person. See Asperger’s syndrome.
  • bipolar disorder
    Formerly known as manic depression, this mental illness is believed to be caused by a combination of genetic factors and neurological functioning, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. It is characterized by unusually intense shifts in emotion, energy, behavior and activity levels in what are called “mood episodes.” Such episodes are usually classified as manic, hypomanic, depressive or mixed episodes. Bipolar disorder often develops during late adolescence or early adulthood. Refer to someone as having bipolar disorder only if the information is central to the story and a licensed medical professional has formally diagnosed the person. Do not use bipolar as an adjective for something that rapidly or drastically changes.
  • birth defect
    See defect/birth defect.
  • blind/limited vision/low vision/partially sighted/visually impaired
    According to the American Foundation for the Blind, the term legally blind denotes a person with 20/200 visual acuity or less. Therefore, blind or legally blind is acceptable for people with almost complete vision loss. Many people with vision loss are not considered blind. The foundation recommends that unless the person refers to himself or herself as legally blind, the terms low vision, limited vision or visually impaired should be used. Use the term blind only when the person has complete loss of sight and the term legally blind when the person has almost complete loss of sight. Other terms also may be acceptable. It is best to ask the person which term he or she prefers and take that into consideration. Commonly used terms include: Limited vision: Acceptable when a person is not legally or completely blind Low vision: Acceptable when a person is not legally or completely blind Partially sighted: Used most often in British publications but acceptable if a person is not legally or completely blind Visually impaired: This general term describes a wide range of visual functions, from low vision to total blindness. It is generally considered acceptable, although, as with the term hearing impaired, some may object to it because it describes the condition in terms of a deficiency.
  • cerebral palsy
    A number of neurological disorders that appear in infancy or early childhood and permanently affect body movement and muscle coordination, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. It is not caused by problems in the muscles or nerves but by abnormalities in parts of the brain that control muscle movement. People with cerebral palsy can exhibit a variety of symptoms. It is acceptable to describe a person as someone with cerebral palsy, followed by a short explanation of what the condition entails. When describing specific symptoms, it is always best to ask the person what terms he or she prefers. Spastic/spaz: Spastic cerebral palsy is a common type of cerebral palsy in which the movements of people with the disorder appear stiff and jerky. It is acceptable to refer to someone as having spastic cerebral palsy, but it is derogatory to refer to someone as spastic or a spaz.
  • cochlear implant
    An electronic device that can help a person who is deaf or hard of hearing. The device does not fully restore hearing, but it gives a representation of sounds to help a person understand speech. The device has been criticized by some in the Deaf community who are concerned the device could threaten Deaf culture. However, advocates support the device for suitable candidates. When referring to a cochlear implant, avoid describing it as a corrective device or one that would restore a deaf person to mainstream society.  Instead, define it as an electronic device that can assist a person who is deaf or hard of hearing in understanding speech. See Deaf/deaf.
  • congenital disability
    A person who has a congenital disability has had a disability since birth. Common congenital disabilities include Down syndrome and heart-related medical conditions. It is preferable to state that someone is a person with a congenital disability, has had a disability since birth, or was born with a disability. Name the specific disability only when it’s pertinent to the story. Avoid the terms defect, birth or defective when describing a disability because they imply the person is somehow incomplete or sub-par. See defect, birth.
  • crazy/crazed, psycho, nuts, lunatic, deranged, wacko
    Derogatory language that contributes to the negative attitudes about mental illness that keep people from seeking treatment. If the word is essential to the story, such as when used in a quotation, context is critical to avoid reinforcing stereotypes. For instance, rather than crazy or deranged, use people living with a mental illness.     
  • Deaf and dumb/deaf-mute
    Dumb was once widely used to describe a person who could not speak and implied the person was incapable of expressing himself or herself. Deaf-mute was used to refer to people who could neither speak nor hear. People living with speech and hearing disabilities are capable of expressing themselves in writing, through sign language and in other ways. Additionally, a person who does not use speech may be able to hear. Avoid these terms as they are often used inaccurately and can be offensive.
  • Deaf-blind, deaf-blind
    Indicates a person has some loss of vision and hearing. Use the terms and capitalization the person prefers.
  • Deaf, deaf
    Lowercase when referring to a hearing-loss condition or to a deaf person who prefers lowercase. Capitalize for those who identify as members of the Deaf community or when they capitalize Deaf when describing themselves. Deaf should be used as an adjective, not as a noun; it describes a person with profound or complete hearing loss. Other acceptable phrases include woman who is deaf or boy who is hard of hearing. Deaf and hard of hearing became the official terms recommended by the World Federation of the Deaf in 1991. Many people in the Deaf community prefer use of a lowercase “d” to refer to audiological status and the use of a capital “D” when referring to the culture and community of Deaf people. The National Association of the Deaf has not taken a definitive stand on this issue. Some people living with mild or moderate hearing loss may affiliate themselves with the Deaf community and prefer the term deaf instead of hard of hearing.  Alternatively, some who are deaf and don’t have a cultural affiliation to the Deaf community may prefer the term hard of hearing. See (partial) hearing loss/partially deaf, pre-lingually deaf/postlingually deaf/late-deafened, and hearing impaired/hearing impairment.    
  • dementia/senility
    Dementia is “a general term for a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life,” according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Dementia is not a specific illness; it is a term that refers to a wide range of symptoms. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. Other types of dementia include Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, Huntington’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome (previously known as “wet brain”). Common symptoms across forms of dementia include memory loss, difficulty in performing complex tasks, communication difficulties, personality changes and paranoia, according to the Mayo Clinic. In addition to their cognitive component, many types of dementia include physical symptoms as well, such as the abnormal eye movements of Huntington’s disease or the tremors associated with Parkinson’s disease. FightDementia.org recommends avoiding the terms demented, dementing, dements, senile, or senility to refer to someone with dementia. The terms senility and senile denote conditions brought on by aging and often are used incorrectly to denote dementia. Refer to someone as having dementia only if the information is relevant to the story and a licensed medical professional has formally diagnosed the person. Use people-first language when describing someone with dementia, such as a person with dementia. Avoid describing someone as being demented or senile. When possible, reference the specific disease, such as someone with Huntington’s disease. When referencing Huntington’s disease or Parkinson’s disease, do not shorten to Huntington’s or Parkinson’s.      
  • diagnosis, mental health
    Unless you have a determination by a psychiatrist or psychologist that the subject of a story has been clinically diagnosed with a mental disorder, avoid speculating about the issue. A mental illness should be described specifically, like any other illness. When a diagnosis is confirmed, specify the condition rather than referring to general “mental illness.”
  • disability discrimination
    According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, disability discrimination "occurs when a covered employer or other entity treats an applicant or employee less favorably because she has a history of a disability (such as cancer that is controlled or in remission) or because she is believed to have a physical or mental impairment that is not transitory (lasting or expected to last six months or less) and minor (even if she does not have such an impairment). The law requires an employer to provide reasonable accommodation to an employee or job applicant with a disability, unless doing so would cause significant difficulty or expense for the employer ('undue hardship')."  
  • Down syndrome
     Down syndrome is a congenital condition (i.e. a condition existing at or before birth that may have a genetic or environmental cause). Down syndrome is caused by the presence of an extra full or partial copy of chromosome 21 in an individual’s cell nuclei. It was first reported in 1866 by Dr. John Langdon Down and is characterized by a number of physical and cognitive symptoms, which the National Institutes of Health details here. Other terms commonly used to refer to people with Down syndrome are intellectually disabled, developmentally disabled or a person who has a cognitive disability or intellectual disability. The Global Down Syndrome Foundation considers all of these terms acceptable, while the National Down Syndrome Society suggests using cognitive disability or intellectual disability. The proper term for the disorder is Down syndrome, not Down’s syndrome or Down’s Syndrome. Use people-first language, stating that someone is a person with Down syndrome or has Down syndrome. Avoid using terms such as suffers from or afflicted with in association with the condition. The terms intellectually disabled, developmentally disabled, cognitive disability and intellectual disability are acceptable when used in a people-first context to describe someone with Down syndrome, such as the person has a developmental disability. However, it is more accurate to refer specifically to Down syndrome when that is the medically diagnosed condition.
  • dwarf, little person, midget, short stature
    Dwarfism is a medical or genetic condition that results in a stature below 4’10,” according to Little People of America. The average height of a dwarf is 4’0.” When used in a non-medical sense, it can be considered offensive, but many view it as the acceptable term for the condition. The term midget was used in the past to describe an unusually short and proportionate person. It is now widely considered derogatory. The terms little people and little person refer to people of short stature and have come into common use since the founding of the Little People of America organization in 1957. The appropriateness of the terms is disputed by those within and outside of the organization. Little People of America recommends using the descriptors short stature, little person or someone with dwarfism. Only refer to a person’s short stature if it is relevant to the story. It is best to ask people which term they prefer to describe them. Avoid the term dwarf unless it is being used in a quote or in a medical diagnosis. Avoid using the terms vertically challenged and midget.
  • dyslexia, dyslexic
    A learning disability characterized by problems identifying speech sounds and learning how to connect them to letters and words, according to the Mayo Clinic. Its chief symptoms include difficulties with spelling, reading, pronunciation of words and processing auditory information. It is a common learning disability among children, although adolescents and adults with dyslexia often exhibit symptoms as well. The term dyslexic is used by some organizations as a noun and adjective in a non-pejorative way; however, using the word as a noun (describing a person as a dyslexic) appears to be falling out of use. Refer to someone as having dyslexia only if the information is relevant to the story and if the person has been formally diagnosed by a licensed medical professional. Use people-first language, stating that someone has dyslexia rather than referring to him or her as a dyslexic person. Avoid using dyslexic as a noun (i.e. She is a dyslexic.).
  • epilepsy/epileptic fit
    A chronic neurological and developmental disorder characterized by “recurrent, unprovoked seizures,” according to the Epilepsy Foundation, which also states that it is the fourth most common neurological disorder. Epilepsy manifests differently in individuals: The severity of epileptic seizures, their occurrence rates and the emergence of other health problems differ from person to person. Epilepsy is most commonly treated with medication but treatment also can include use of medical devices, surgery, diet and emerging therapy methods. Refer to someone as having epilepsy only if the information is relevant to the story and if the person has been formally diagnosed by a licensed medical professional. Use people-first language, stating that someone has epilepsy or has been diagnosed with epilepsy rather than referring to him or her as an epileptic. The term seizure is the preferred term when referring to the brief manifestation of symptoms common among those with epilepsy. Avoid stating that the person had a fit or an epileptic fit.
  • handicapped
    The Oxford English dictionary defines a handicap as “a condition that restricts a person’s ability to function physically, mentally or socially.” Do not describe a person as handicapped unless it is central to the story. Avoid using handicap and handicapped when describing a person. Instead, refer to the person’s specific condition. The terms are still widely used when citing laws, regulations, places or things, such as handicapped parking, although many prefer the term accessible parking.
  • hard of hearing
    he term may be used to refer to people who have a mild to moderate hearing loss that may or may not be corrected with amplification. Those who are hard of hearing usually use speech to communicate. Deaf and hard of hearing became the official terms recommended by the World Federation of the Deaf in 1991. Many people in the Deaf community and organizations, including the National Association of the Deaf, support these terms. Some people with mild or moderate hearing loss may affiliate themselves with the Deaf community and prefer the term Deaf.  Alternatively, some who are deaf and don't have a cultural affiliation to the Deaf community may prefer the term hard of hearing. Hard of hearing is almost always acceptable. However, use the term the person prefers.
  • hearing impaired/hearing impairment
    The terms hearing impaired and hearing impairment are general terms used to describe people with a range of hearing loss from impairment partial to complete. The terms are disliked by many because, like the word handicap, hearing impaired describes a person in terms of a deficiency or what they cannot do. The World Federation of the Deaf has taken the stance that hearing impaired is no longer an acceptable term. For those with total hearing loss, deaf is acceptable. For others, partial hearing loss or partially deaf is preferred. It is best to ask the person which term he or she prefers.
  • infantile paralysis
    Infantile paralysis is short for poliomyelitis and was commonly used in the past to describe polio. Its symptoms include muscle weakness and paralysis. Jonas Salk introduced the polio vaccine in the 1950s and drastically reduced cases of polio in the U.S.Use the term polio rather than infantile paralysis. It is preferable to say “He had polio as a child” or “She contracted polio as an adult” rather than “He suffers from polio” or “He is a victim of polio.”
  • injury/injuries
    The word injury is commonly used to describe any harm, damage or impairment to an individual as the result of an accident or other event. Refer to injuries as being sustained or received, not suffered, unless the person in question prefers “suffered.”
  • insane asylum/mental health hospital/psychiatric hospital
    Hospitals that cared for people with various mental illnesses, often for long periods of time, were once commonly referred to as insane asylums. The term has largely gone out of use as objectionable and inaccurate. Mental health hospital or psychiatric hospital are the preferred terms to describe medical facilities specifically devoted to treating people with mental disabilities.
  • insane, incompetent
    The terms insane, insanity and mentally deranged are commonly used informally to denote mental instability or mental illness but can be considered offensive. The medical profession favors use of the terms mental disorder or psychopathology. In U.S. criminal law, insanity is a legal question, not a medical one. Use mental illness or mental disorder instead of insane or mentally deranged, except in a quote or when referring to a criminal defense.
  • intellectual disability
    A disability that involves “significant limitations both in intellectual functioning (reasoning, learning, problem solving) and in adaptive behavior, which covers a range of everyday social and practical skills,” according to the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. Those with IQ test scores of 75 or lower are considered intellectually disabled. Intellectual disabilities typically develop in individuals before the age of 18. This contrasts with congenital disorders such as Down syndrome, which develop before or at birth. Use people-first language, stating that someone is a person with an intellectual disability rather than referring to the person as intellectually disabled.
  • invalid
    The Oxford English dictionary defines invalid as “a person made weak or disabled by illness or injury.” It is probably the oldest term for someone with physical conditions that are considered seriously limiting. However, it is such a general term that it fails to accurately describe a person’s condition and is now widely viewed as offensive in that it implies that a person lacks abilities. Avoid using invalid to describe a person with a disability except when quoting someone.
  • lame
    A word commonly used to describe difficulty walking as the result of an injury to the leg. Some people object to the use of the word lame to describe a physical condition because it is used in colloquial English as a synonym for weak, as in “That’s a lame excuse. Avoid using lame to describe a person with a disability except when quoting someone.
  • little person
    See dwarf, midget, short stature.
  • lupus
    Chronic disease that affects immunity. Normally, the body's immune system makes proteins called antibodies to protect against viruses, bacteria and other foreign materials. Lupus causes the immune system to attack healthy tissues and organs. It can harm various parts of the body, especially the skin, joints, kidneys, lungs, brain and heart. Lupus most often affects black women.
  • madman
    See crazy/crazed, psycho, nuts, lunatic, deranged, wacko.
  • mental health
    A state of well-being in which someone can cope with common stresses and live and work productively to his or her full potential. Note that cultural differences, subjective assessments and competing professional theories all affect how mental health is defined.
  • mental health professional
    Many different types of professionals may work with individuals who are experiencing mental health challenges, including psychiatrists, psychologists, psychotherapists, social workers, marriage and family therapists and others. Any of these professionals may be qualified to comment on a particular story, though HIPAA regulations may limit the information about a patient he or she can legally share. There are a number of types of mental health professionals. The following broad definitions are sourced from Psychology Today. Psychiatrist: A mental health professional able to prescribe psychotropic medications. Some provide emotional therapy as well as medication management. Psychoanalyst: A specific type of psychotherapist trained to work with both an individual’s unconscious and unconscious mind. The field was founded by Sigmund Freud. Psychologist: A mental health professional trained in the discipline of psychology and who often does psychological testing and research.Psychotherapist: An umbrella term for mental health professionals trained to treat people for their health problems. Ask the professional how he or should be identified, based on his or her formal training. Avoid using the word shrink in reference a mental health professional except in a quote.
  • mental illness, mental health disorder
    A health condition that changes a person’s thinking, feelings or behavior and that causes the person distress and difficulty in functioning. As with many diseases, mental illness is severe in some cases and mild in others, and is not always obvious. Recognize that the terms mental illness and mental health disorder cover a wide range of conditions, and, whenever possible, the specific diagnosis for an individual should be used rather than the blanket term. Mental illnesses also are known as mental disorders. The most common forms of mental illness are anxiety disorders, mood disorders, and schizophrenia disorders. One in four adults experiences mental illness in a given year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, although severity and symptoms vary widely. For more information on mental illness, see the National Institute for Mental Health. Because of perceived stigma, some people are calling for an end to the use of the term mental illness, suggesting instead terms such as person diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder or person with a mental health history. However, the term is still widely used within the medical and psychiatric professions. The American Psychiatric Association offers a useful guide to media on use of appropriate terms. The association recommends using people-first language to describe mental illness in order to avoid defining a person by his or her disability. She experiences symptoms of psychosis is preferable to she is psychotic; he is living with bipolar disorder is preferable to he is bipolar; and she has autism is preferable to she is autistic. Refer to an individual’s mental illness only when it is relevant to the story and the diagnosis comes from a proper source. Whenever possible, specify the specific illness a person has rather than mental illness in general. Always refer to someone with a mental illness as a person first. Use quotes when officials or family members use a term such as a history of mental illness to refer to an individual and indicate when appropriate that the diagnosis has not been confirmed.
  • mentally retarded, mentally disabled, intellectually disabled, developmentally disabled
    The terms mentally retarded, retard and mental retardation were once common terms that are now considered outdated and offensive. In 2010, President Barack Obama signed a measure known as “Rosa’s Law” that replaced the term mental retardation with intellectual disability in many areas of government, including federal law. Always try to specify the type of disability being referenced. Otherwise, the terms mental disability, intellectual disability and developmental disability are acceptable. Use people-first language. For example, instead of using the mentally disabled as a collective noun, use people with mental disabilities. At times, words that are considered outdated may be appropriate because of the story’s historical context.  In those cases, attribute the term or note its historic use. Example: The doctor said he was retarded, a term widely used at the time.
  • midget
    See dwarf, little person, short stature.
  • Mongoloid
    The term was used in the late 19th century to refer to people who had Down syndrome, due to the similarity of some of the physical characteristics of the disorder to Eastern Asian people who were called Mongoloid, according to the Oxford English dictionary. It is considered a highly derogatory word to describe someone with Down syndrome. Always avoid the use of mongloid to refer to someone with Down syndrome.
  • multiple personality disorder
    See dissociative identity disorder.
  • multiple sclerosis (MS)
    A disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the flow of information within the brain and between the brain and body, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. MS symptoms vary widely and may include trouble with walking or movement, numbness and vision problems. It is acceptable to describe a person as “someone with multiple sclerosis,” followed by a short explanation of how the disease is manifested in that person. Avoid saying a person suffers from or is afflicted with the disease. MS is acceptable on second reference.
  • muscular dystrophy
    Muscular dystrophy could refer to any of more than 30 genetic diseases characterized by progressive weakness and degeneration of the muscles that control movement, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Onset could be infancy, childhood, middle age or later. It is acceptable to describe a person as “someone with muscular dystrophy,” followed by a short explanation of what the condition entails. Avoid saying a person suffers from or is afflicted with the disease. MD is acceptable on second reference.
  • non-disabled
    Non-disabled has come into usage as a way to refer to someone who does not have a disability. Non-disabled or does not have a disability are acceptable terms when referring to people who do not identify as having a disability. In general, avoid using able-bodied.
  • nuts
    See crazy.
  • obsessive-compulsive disorder
    An anxiety disorder characterized by unreasonable thoughts and fears that lead to repetitive and often ritualized behaviors or compulsions. OCD may exhibit as a fear of contamination, disarray or intrusion, according to the Mayo Clinic. People with OCD usually exhibit both obsessions and compulsions but sometimes exhibit only one or the other. OCD is often treated by pharmaceutical drugs, psychotherapy methods or a combination of the two. Refer to someone as having OCD only if the information is relevant to the story and the person has been formally diagnosed by a reputable source. Do not use OCD as an adjective for someone who obsesses over certain things but has not been formally diagnosed as having OCD. Use obsessive-compulsive disorder on first reference; OCD is acceptable in second reference.  
  • paraplegia/paraplegic
    The impairment or loss of movement in the lower extremities and torso. It is typically caused by a spinal cord or brain injury. Referring to someone as a paraplegic is offensive to some as it implies that their condition defines them. Avoid referring to an individual as a paraplegic. Instead, say the person has paraplegia. Sometimes people with paraplegia refer to themselves as a “para.” If so, use in quotes. See quadriplegia/quadriplegic.
  • people-first language
    Language that avoids defining a person in term of his or her disability. In most cases, this entails placing the reference to the disability after a reference to a person, as in a person with a disability rather than the disabled person. The National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities of the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention offers an easy-to-follow guide on people-first language. The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association acknowledges that utilizing people-first language sometimes can result in awkward sentence structuring. As such, the organization states that “deviations from people-first language should be allowed in cases when the only alternative is awkward sentence structure.” Use people-first language whenever possible.  
  • post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
    An anxiety disorder that can develop after traumatic events such as military combat, natural disasters, terrorist incidents, serious accidents, traumatic brain injury, physical and sexual assault in adults or children, and any other traumatic experience. PTSD can be diagnosed a month or more after the traumatic event has occurred. An anxiety disorder generally caused by undergoing an extremely emotional traumatic event, according to the National Center for PTSD. Such events may include assault, war, sexual assault, natural disasters, car accidents or imprisonment. Symptoms may include reliving the traumatic event, avoidance of certain behaviors, negative emotions or physical symptoms such as dizziness or nausea. Refer to someone as having PTSD only if the information is relevant* to the story and the person has been formally diagnosed by a reputable source. Post-traumatic stress disorder is correct on first reference; use PTSD on second reference. The term flashback may be used to denote reliving an event that triggered the PTSD.
  • pre-lingually deaf/postlingually deaf/late-deafened
    Prelingually deaf refers to individuals who were born deaf or became deaf prior to learning to understand and speak a language, according to Gallaudet University, a university for the education of the deaf and hard of hearing in Washington, D.C.Postlingually deaf or late-deafened describes a person who lost hearing ability after he or she learned to speak a language. The terms are acceptable, although explanation may be required for a general audience.
  • psycho
    See crazy.
  • psychotic/psycho
    A broad term used to describe symptoms of certain mental health problems. Symptoms may include delusions or hallucinations or other loss of contact with reality. People with psychosis are described as psychotic. In common usage, psychotic often is used in the same way as the word crazy, and thus can be offensive and inaccurate. Use the words psychotic and psychosis only when they accurately describe a medical experience. Avoid using psychotic to describe a person; instead refer to a person as having a psychotic condition or psychosis. Avoid using the terms colloquially.
  • quadriplegia/quadriplegic
    Quadriplegia is defined as the paralysis of all four limbs as well as the torso. It often is caused by a spinal cord or brain injury and is characterized by the loss of sensory and motor function. Paraplegia is similar but does not affect the arms. People with these conditions often are referred to as quadriplegics and paraplegics, but these terms are considered offensive by some. Use people-first language, such as “a person with quadriplegia” rather than quadriplegic, since this implies that the condition defines them. Sometimes people with quadriplegia refer to themselves as “quads.” If so, use in quotes. (NCDJ)
  • recovery, treatment (mental illness)
    Recovery from mental illness is a process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live a self-directed life, and strive to reach their full potential. Recognize that a diagnosis of mental illness is not forever. Mental illness is treatable and recovery is possible. Sharing stories of people who have sought treatment and recovered or are managing their condition successfully goes a long way toward reducing misconceptions.
  • retarded
    See mentally retarded, mentally disabled, intellectually disabled, developmentally disabled.
  • schizo, schizoid
    Avoid. Slang words derived from schizophrenic and generally used inaccurately, to mean “of two minds.” Instead of using schizophrenia (or its derivatives) to describe something other than the illness, find other words. A person who can't make up his mind is indecisive. A situation that keeps changing is unsettled.
  • schizophrenic
    A severe and chronic mental illness characterized by distorted recognition and interpretations of reality, affecting how an individual thinks, feels and acts, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Common symptoms include visual and auditory hallucinations, delusional and disordered thinking, unresponsiveness, a lack of pleasure in daily life and other social issues. It does not involve split personalities. Less than 1 percent of the general population has schizophrenia, and it is treated mostly through the use of pharmaceutical drugs. Avoid using schizophrenic as an adjective, but rather refer to a person as diagnosed with schizophrenia or living with schizophrenia. Also avoid using the term for nonpsychiatric conditions, such as a rapidly changing situation or an indecisive person. Similar guidelines apply to words like psychotic, bipolar, anorexic and OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder). Refer to someone as having schizophrenia only if the information is relevant to the story and if the person has been formally diagnosed by a licensed medical professional. Use people-first language, stating that someone is a person with schizophrenia or a person diagnosed with schizophrenia rather than a schizophrenic or a schizophrenic person. Do not use the word schizophrenic colloquially as a synonym for something inconsistent or contradictory.
  • seizure
    See epilepsy.
  • service animal/assistance animal/guide dog/Seeing Eye dog
    Service animals are trained animals, mostly dogs, which provide services to people with disabilities. They also are sometimes called assistance animals, guide dogs, or Seeing Eye dogs. The federal definition of a “service animal” applies to “any guide dog, signal dog or other animal trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability.” This may include animals that guide individuals with impaired vision, alert individuals with impaired hearing to intruders or sounds, provide minimal protection or rescue work, pull a wheelchair or fetch dropped items. If they meet this definition, animals are considered service animals under the Americans with Disabilities Act, regardless of whether they have been licensed or certified.  For more information, go to Frequently Asked Questions about Service Animals and the ADA, a document prepared by the U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Disability Rights Section. Service animal, assistance animal and guide dog all are acceptable. Avoid use of Seeing Eye dog as Seeing Eye is a registered trademark of The Seeing Eye school in Morristown, N.J. Be aware that the issue of licensure and/or certification of service animals is a contentious issue in the disability community, so it may be best to refer to the federal definition.
  • sexually transmitted infection (STI)
    Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) were formerly known as sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). The new name is intended to emphasize that anyone can be infected with an STI even without showing symptoms of disease. STIs can be transmitted through vaginal, anal and oral sex, as well as other intimate skin-to-skin contact.
  • short stature
    See dwarf/little person/midget/short stature.
  • sickle-cell anemia
    Inherited chronic anemia found chiefly among blacks, characterized by abnormal red blood cells. Unlike normal red cells, which are usually smooth and donut-shaped, sickle-shaped red cells cannot squeeze through small blood vessels. Instead, they stack up and cause blockages that deprive organs and tissues of oxygen-carrying blood. The disease has no cure but can be treated with drugs and or blood transfusions.
  • spastic/spaz
    See cerebral palsy.
  • special rights
    Politically charged term used by opponents of civil rights for the LGBT community. Avoid. LGBT rights, equal rights or gay and lesbian rights are alternatives.
  • special/special needs/functional needs
    The term special needs was popularized in the U.S. during the early 20th century during a push for special needs education to serve people with all kinds of disabilities. The word “special” in relationship to those with disabilities is now widely considered offensive because it euphemistically stigmatizes that which is different. Avoid using these terms when describing a person with a disability or the programs designed to serve them, with the exception of government references or formal names of organizations and programs. It is more accurate to cite the specific disability or disabilities in question. The term functional needs is preferred when a term is required. For example, addressing the functional needs of people with disabilities could be used when referring to a facility or program.
  • spina bifida
    The literal translation of spina bifida is split spine, according to the Spina Bifida Association.  The condition is a neural tube defect that occurs when the spinal column does not close all the way in the womb. It is the most common neural tube defect in the U.S. There are four types of spina bifida. For complete definitions, visit the Spina Bifida Association website. Complications from spina bifida range from minor physical problems to severe mental and physical disabilities. It is acceptable to describe a person as “someone with spina bifida,” followed by a short explanation of what their condition entails.
  • stricken with
    See victim of.
  • stuttering/stammering
    A speech disorder characterized by repeated or prolonged words, sounds or syllables that affect the flow or fluency of speech, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. Stuttering often is involuntary and can be accompanied by rapid blinking or lip tremors. Stuttering symptoms manifest in early childhood. While many children outgrow stuttering, a small percentage of adults stutter as well. The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association notes that most stuttering can be treated by behavioral therapies.There is some ambiguity about the difference between stuttering and stammering and which term is appropriate in different contexts. However, organizations such as the NIDCD, Mayo Clinic and the National Stuttering Association generally use the term stuttering to refer to the speech disorder. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders debuted the new term “childhood-onset fluency disorder” to refer to stuttering, along with a few new criteria for its diagnosis. However this term is not yet widely used.The word stuttering is preferred over stammering. Do not refer to an individual as a stutterer. Rather, use people-first language, such as “a person who stutters.” Refer to stuttering only if it is relevant* to the story.
  • suffers from
    See victim of.
  • suicide
    Evidence suggests that certain types of media reporting are tied to an increase in suicides (also known as suicide contagion). When not handled carefully, each of the following elements has been shown to raise the risk of suicide for people tempted to imitate the publicized behavior: Placement — If you determine the story is newsworthy, don’t dramatize the event by placing it on the front page—or by placing “suicide” in the headline. (In headlines, “dies” is appropriate.) Details — Avoid exact details on locations and methods. Photos/videos — Avoid photos or videos of the location or method of death, as well as dramatic images of grieving family and friends or memorial services. Language — The words committed, succeeded or failed are inaccurate. Appropriate wording is that someone died by suicide, took his life or killed herself. Don’t oversimplify — Suicide is complex and often has many factors. It is almost certainly inaccurate to cite a single cause as, for example, “recent money woes” or “a fight with a spouse.” Suicides usually result when a confluence of events and circumstances makes life temporarily unbearable. Mental health disorders and/or substance abuse are associated with 90 percent of suicides. Often, even family and friends do not recognize the warning signs or the underlying mental health problems leading to a suicide. [For more information on covering suicide consult these resources: Reporting on Suicide Suicide Facts at a Glance, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and these resources from the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma: In Depth: Covering Suicide A Tip Sheet on Covering Suicide from Al Tompkins Tip Sheet: Covering Military/Veteran Suicides Suicide on College Campuses Suicide and the Media]
  • suicide contagion
    More than 50 research studies worldwide have found that certain types of news coverage can increase the likelihood of suicide in vulnerable individuals. The magnitude of the increase is related to the amount, duration, and prominence of coverage. Risk of additional suicides increases when the story explicitly describes the suicide method, uses dramatic/graphic headlines or images, and repeated/extensive coverage sensationalizes or glamorizes a death. ​ Suicide contagion, or copycat suicide, occurs when one or more suicides are reported in a way that contributes to another suicide. See suicide for more information on how to cover suicide responsibly.
  • Tourette syndrome/Tourette's syndrome/Tourette's disorder
    Tourette syndrome is a neurological disorder characterized by tics, or sudden, purposeless and rapid movements or vocalizations, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Such tics are recurrent, involuntary and non-rhythmic, with the same tics occurring each time. The disorder was originally named for French neurologist Dr. Georges Gilles de la Tourette, who first described the condition in 1885, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. While those with Tourette syndrome often can suppress tics by focusing on them, the disorder also can be treated with medication, relaxation techniques and therapy.  Although involuntary cursing is commonly thought to be a key trait of the disorder, only a minority of those with Tourette syndrome exhibits this symptom. Terminology for the disorder is varied. It is interchangeably referred to as Tourette syndrome, Tourette’s syndrome and Tourette’s disorder. However, prominent mental health organizations such as NINDS, the Mayo Clinic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as the Tourette Syndrome Association refer to it as Tourette syndrome. Use Tourette syndrome, with no possessive or capitalization of syndrome. Refer to someone as having Tourette syndrome only if the information is relevant to the story and if the person has been formally diagnosed by a licensed medical professional. Use people-first language, stating that someone is a person with Tourette syndrome or a person diagnosed with Tourette syndrome. Avoid the acronym TS as it is not widely known. [For more information about Tourette syndrome see the Tourette Syndrome Association website, the National Alliance on Mental Illness Tourette's Syndrome Fact Sheet or the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke's Tourette Syndrome Fact Sheet.]
  • treatment/treatment center/rehab center/detox center
    Treatment is defined by the American Society of Addiction Medicine as the use of any planned, intentional intervention in the health, behavior, personal and/or family life of an individual suffering from alcoholism or another drug dependency designed to achieve and maintain sobriety, physical and mental health and maximum functional ability.  A treatment center is an establishment usually run by psychiatric or medical professionals. Treatment is an acceptable term for medical interventions, and treatment center is acceptable for the establishment in which such practices take place. Use treatment center in place of rehab or detox center. A person enrolled in a treatment center should be referred to as a patient.  
  • vegetative state/comatose/non-response
    A vegetative state is defined as the absence of responsiveness or consciousness in which a patient shows no awareness of his or her environment. Patients may exhibit eye movements and other involuntary movements. A minimally conscious state is one in which a patient has some awareness of self and/or the environment. Referring to a person in a vegetative state as a vegetable is considered offensive. It is preferable to use precise medical terminology or, if that is not possible, terms such as comatose or non-responsive. If using the term vegetative state, use people-first language, such as a person in a vegetative state. Avoid referring to someone as a vegetable or “veg” as such words dehumanize the person.  
  • victim, suffering from, afflicted with, stricken with
    Don’t make an assumption about how someone with a mental illness [or other condition] is handling his or her life. Use value-neutral terms. Not preferred: She suffers from anxiety. Preferred: She’s being treated for an anxiety disorder or She is diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.
  • wheelchair/wheelchair-bound/confined to a wheelchair
    People who use mobility equipment such as a wheelchair, scooter or cane consider their equipment part of their personal space, according to the United Spinal Association. People who use wheelchairs have widely different disabilities and varying abilities. It is acceptable to describe a person as someone who uses a wheelchair, followed by an explanation of why the equipment is required. Avoid confined to a wheelchair or wheelchair-bound as these terms describe a person only in relationship to a piece of equipment. The terms also are misleading, as wheelchairs can liberate people, allowing them to move about, and they are inaccurate, as people who use wheelchairs are not permanently confined in them, but are transferred [or transfer themselves] to sleep, sit in chairs, drive cars, etc.