People With Disabilities

Do not focus on disability unless it is crucial to a story. Always put people first, not their disability. Emphasize abilities, not limitations. Show people with disabilities as active participants of society, and do not refer to people without disabilities as “normal.”

The following incomplete list of examples is taken from “Guidelines for Reporting and Writing About People with Disabilities” (7th ed. Lawrence, Kan.: Research and Training Center on Independent Living, University of Kansas, 2008). For more information, visit

Right: person with a disability, person with ADHD, person with autism, girl who is blind or visually impaired, person with a brain injury, woman who has a brain injury, boy with an acquired brain injury, brain injury survivor, woman who is deaf or hard of hearing, person with a developmental disability, cancer survivor, burn survivor, adult with burns, person with Down syndrome, people living with HIV or living with AIDS, person with a learning disability, people with mental retardation, people with psychiatric disabilities or illnesses, people with mental disorders, person with epilepsy, person of small stature, little person, child with a speech disorder, woman without speech, a man with paraplegia, woman who is paralyzed, person with a spinal cord injury, stroke survivor, person who has had a stroke, person who is substance dependent, a man in recovery
Wrong: autistic, brain-damaged, harelip, the deaf, the blind, the handicapped, the disabled, special, disfigured, burn victim, Mongoloid, AIDS victim, the retarded, slow learner, abnormal, subnormal, crazy, demented, epileptic, mute, dumb, stroke victim, alcoholic, drug addict

Ethnic Sensitivities

Always ask individual preference.

African-American/black: It’s acceptable to use these interchangeably to describe black people in the United States. When referring to a specific individual, use the term he or she prefers.

American Indian/Native American: These terms are synonymous. Some indigenous people in the United States prefer “American Indian” to “Native American.” It’s best to use individual preference, if known. When possible, use national affiliation rather than the generic “American Indian” or “Native American,” for example, Navajo, Hopi, Cherokee and so on. To specify someone who was born in the U.S. but isn’t Native American, use “nativeborn.”

Asian, Asian-American: Use “Asian” when referring to anyone from Asia, but use “Asian-American” when specifically referring to those of Asian ancestry who are American citizens.

Mexican-American, Hispanic, Latino/Latina: Use “Mexican” when referring to anyone of Mexican citizenship, and use “Mexican-American” when referring to those of Mexican ancestry who are permanent residents or citizens of the United States. “Hispanic” and “Latino/Latina” are umbrella terms referring to a person whose ethnic origin is in a Spanish-speaking country, as well as residents or citizens of the United States with Latin American ancestry.

Adapted from the News Watch Diversity Style Guide.

Religious Holidays

To respect the wide variety of religious beliefs on our campus, use “holiday party” rather than “Christmas party” and “winter break” rather than “Christmas break.”


Use the preferred references: fraternities and sororities. The term “Greeks”or “Greek organizations” is okay. Don’t use the term “frats.”

Gender Sensitivities

Take a little extra time to construct your sentences so you can avoid having to use gender-specific terms. For example, by using plural pronouns (“they,” “their”), you can avoid having to use the awkward but gender-inclusive construction “he or she” or “his or her.”

Instead of “chairman,” use “chair.” Instead of “waiter” or ”waitress,” use “server.” Instead of “mailman,” use “postal carrier.” It’s also becoming more common to see the term “actor” used for men and women.

Sexual Orientation

gay/lesbian: “Gay” is an acceptable term for homosexuals (primarily males) but is best used as an adjective instead of a noun — for example, “gay man” as opposed to “the gays.” “Lesbian” is preferred for women. When possible, use “gay and lesbian.”

gay lifestyle: Avoid this term. There is no one gay lifestyle just as there is no one heterosexual lifestyle.

gay relationships: Gay, lesbian and bisexual people use various terms to describe their commitments. If possible, ask the individual what term he or she prefers. Otherwise, “partner” is generally acceptable.

homosexual: This is the medical/clinical term for lesbians and gays. (adj.) Of or relating to sexual and affectional attraction to a member of the same sex. (n.) A person who is attracted to members of the same sex. “Gay” or “lesbian” is the preferred term in all contexts, except clinical.

LGBTQA: Acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning and ally communities.

Adapted from the News Watch Diversity Style Guide.

same-sex marriage: This term is preferred to “gay marriage” because it is more inclusive and technically accurate.

transgender (adj): An umbrella term that refers to people whose physical, sexual characteristics may not match their gender identity. Use the name and personal pronouns that are consistent with how the individual lives publicly. When possible, ask which term the subject prefers. As a noun, use “transgender people.”