The NY Times on discussing disability

After Deadline is a weekly feature that “examines questions of grammar, usage and style encountered by writers and editors of The Times.”  Below is a discussion of discussing disability; it follows with a list of examples, only a few of which I’ll repeat here.  I wonder how many I would have caught if the paragraphs were just part of some article I was reading.  Looking through the whole thing might provide some useful sensitivity training:

Discussing Disabilities

We should take extra care in references to people with disabilities. Here’s The Times’s stylebook entry:

disability, disabled. Mention disabilities only when their pertinence will be clear to the reader. It is acceptable to speak of someone’s physical or mental disability, but more specific descriptions are preferred: She cannot walk because of multiple sclerosis. When possible, treat disabled as an adjective or a verb. As a noun (the disabled) it may seem to equate widely diverse people and undervalue the productive parts of their lives.

We’re generally careful to adhere to the basic guideline, and our references overall are sensitive and relevant. But we could do better on the second point — trying, whenever feasible, to use words like “disabled,” “blind” or “deaf” as modifiers, rather than nouns. Consider these recent references:


Software That Opens Worlds to the Disabled

… The competition was won by Bar Code Reader, the program to help the visually impaired read information on grocery items. Second place went to Mind Control, which allows the physically disabled to guide a computer mouse by neural impulses. …

Project:Possibility directors have plans for more ambitious projects. First, there will be a competition in February with teams of computer science students at the University of California, Los Angeles, in hopes of multiplying the number of programs to help the disabled.


But studies led by a psychologist at the University of Hartford show that for the blind, depending on when in life they lost their sense of sight, the reverse seems to be true.


One interesting thing to notice is that they do not address the question of demeaning language for people with disabilities (e.g., “retarded”).  My bet would be that that is taken to be too obvious, though that is  only a bet.



And thanks are due to Shelley Tremain, who first addressed this topic on this blog (in comments).

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