The terms disabilities and disabled include a broad range of physical and mental conditions both visible and invisible. People’s perceptions of disabilities vary widely. Use care and precision when writing about disabilities and people with disabilities, considering the impact of specific words and the preferences of the people you are writing about.
Avoid writing that implies ableism: the belief that typical abilities — those of people who aren’t disabled — are superior. Ableism is a concept similar to racism, sexism, and ageism in that it includes stereotypes, generalizations, and demeaning views and language. It is a form of discrimination or prejudice against people with disabilities.
Do not describe an individual as having a disability unless it is clearly pertinent to the story. For example: Merritt, who is blind and walks with the help of a guide dog, said she is pleased with the city’s walkway improvements. But not: Zhang, who has paraplegia, is a fan of the Philadelphia Phillies.
Be specific about the type of disability, or symptoms. For example: The woman said the airline kicked her family off a plane after her three-year-old, who has autism, refused to wear a mask. She said her son became upset because he does not like to have his face touched.
When possible, ask people how they want to be described. Some people view their disability as central to their identity, and use identity-first language such as an autistic woman or an autistic. Others prefer person-first language such as a woman with autism or a woman who has autism. In describing groups of people, or when individual preferences can’t be determined, use person-first language.
In general, refer to a disability only if relevant to the story, and if a medical diagnosis has been made or the person uses the term. If relatives or others use the term, ask how they know, then consider carefully whether to include the information.
Avoid the term handicap for a disability or handicapped for a person.
(Source: AP Stylebook)