Disability Language

Style Guide


More than 61 million people in the United States have a disability – that’s one out of every four adults. Even if you don’t have a disability, chances are you know someone who does – a family member or friend, a co-worker or a customer who frequents your business. Talking about disability doesn’t have to be complicated, but it does need to be respectful.

The Disability Language Style Guide is a community resource and a collaborative effort among people with disabilities and organizations in Southwest Ohio that support and empower people with disabilities. This website is an updated version of the People First Language Style Guide, first created in 2008 to address language many local advocates felt was demeaning. The original guide shared examples of how to talk about disability that were more respectful and focused on the person, not his or her disability.

In the past several years, there has been a shift in language preference among people with disabilities, many who now prefer identity-first language (autistic person) to people-first language (person with autism). Our guide doesn’t seek to settle this debate, as it’s always best to ask what someone prefers.

We’ve made tremendous progress in respectful language since the original guide was published, but there is still work to do. We hope the Disability Style Guide helps erase some of the stigma associated with disability, provides tools to sensitively navigate complex situations and encourages you to use more inclusive language.

A woman smiles while standing in a parking lot. She's wearing glasses, a blue flowered dress, and a denim jacket. She has a prosthetic leg and a purple cane.

The words we choose help shape attitudes and perceptions.

Two men smile and display a book while standing outside

Talking about disability needs to be inclusive and respectful.

An african american man with salt and pepper beard and hair wearing a blue blazer, blue striped shirt, and a blue pocket square. He wears black sunglasses with a camera on them and holds a device in his hand to help him read a magazine.

The words we choose help shape attitudes and perceptions.

Two men unwrap in a factory unwrap an industrial size roll of plastic. The men are wearing safety glasses and t-shirts and are surrounded by boxes and factory equipment.

If you’re interested in diving deeper, see our list of additional resources.