HMA has a long history of working with disability organizations throughout the state. From traditional media relations to event-planning and advocacy, we have had the pleasure of working with such organizations as the Arizona Commission for the Deaf and the Hard of Hearing, Arizona Relay Service, Arizona Center for Disability Law and ABILITY360 (formerly Arizona Bridge to Independent Living), among others.
One of the first things we learned when working with this sector of our community is the proper language and terminology to use when talking about and with a person with a disability. And the first place we turned to understand this was the National Center on Disability and Journalism.
So today’s #MediaMonday introduces you to the Center, headquartered at ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, and its recently release comprehensive style guide. I talked to Kristin Gilger, the Center’s director and associate dean of the Cronkite School and also gleaned information from the Center’s very robust website.
We’ve posted this today, Martin Luther King Day, as a tribute to those in the disability movement who fight each and every day to raise awareness and advocate for the civil rights of these individuals.
The NCDJ is a national organization that provides support and guidance to journalists and communicators as they cover people with disabilities. Kristin told me that the new style guide greatly expands on the one developed in 2010.
“The language of disability keeps changing and there are so many different opinions about what words and phrases should be used that there’s a real need for an authoritative, neutral source of guidance and information,” she said.
The guide offers information and advice on nearly 70 commonly used words or terms from “able-bodied” to “confined to a wheelchair.” Kristin said disability can be a difficult topic to cover for journalists, many of whom are unfamiliar with current debates over language choices and what might be considered offensive. For example, many in the disability community object to the use of disabled as an adjective. They prefer “a person with a disability” as opposed to “a disabled person.”
“That distinction may seem subtle until you understand that people naturally want to be people first,” she said. “Being disabled is only part of their identity.”
The style guide strives to balance the need for sensitivity and accuracy against the journalistic mandate for language that is clear and easily understood by a general audience.
In addition to offering recommendations on language choices, the guide provides a brief background on each word or term and touches on instances in which disability organizations disagree on usage. It also notes whether or not the word or term is addressed in the Associated Press Stylebook. Two-thirds of the entries in the NCDJ guide are not covered in the AP Stylebook.
Along with the guide, the NCDJ also has created a companion piece, “Terms to Avoid When Writing About Disability.” The article offers advice to communicators on why they should avoid using terms such as “epileptic fit” or “senile” and directs them to more neutral language.
The NCDJ was founded in 1998 in San Francisco as the Disability Media Project to raise awareness of how the news media cover people with disabilities. The organization was renamed in 2000 and moved to the Cronkite School in 2009.
NCDJ’s disability style guide is available on the organization’s website or as a printable PDF at http://ncdj.org/style-guide/.