Karen Henry
Life Span Institute

Research center publishes new edition of disability language guidelines

Wed, 09/04/2013

LAWRENCE — A University of Kansas disability research center has published the eighth edition of “Guidelines: How to Write and Report About People with Disabilities,” a nationally known publication. The recommendations for disability terminology are based on a survey of national disability organizations.

“Journalists, public speakers, educators, human service providers and other communicators have a great influence on shaping society’s attitudes toward disability,” said Glen White, director of the Research and Training Center on Independent Living. “These guidelines are a call to responsible and accurate portrayal that does not objectify or treat people with disabilities as mere human interest stories. Rather, they focus on the humanity of the individual and the fact that the experience of disability is a natural part of life.”

Since the first edition of “Guidelines” was published in 1984, the brochure has been regularly updated with input from disability organizations across the United States. Some of its recommendations have been adopted by the Associated Press, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Psychological Association.

The eighth edition includes updated definitions of terms, plus three new sections: “Rosa’s Law and the Language of Bullying,” “Key Concepts in the Disability Community” and “A Few Exceptions.” A companion poster called “Your Words, Our Image” highlights selected terms from the brochure.

For this edition, journalists also provided feedback through a collaboration with the KU School of Journalism and Mass Communications. Professor Tien-Tsung Lee used the guidelines and the poster as a research project for students in Journalism 460: Research Methods in Strategic Communications. The students conducted a focus group and online survey of practicing journalists to gather responses to the publication. They also created marketing plans to reach a broad audience of student journalists and communicators in other professions.

Past edition of the guidelines have been published in Spanish, and the publication is now being adapted and translated for distribution in South Korea.

The brochure and poster are both available for free download here.  For more information or to order print copies, call or email the RTC/IL at 785-864-4095 or email

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