The evolution of disability language: Choosing terms to describe disability

Disabil Health J. 2022 Apr 22;101328. doi: 10.1016/j.dhjo.2022.101328. Online ahead of print.


The use of disability language in academic scholarship has changed significantly over the past several years. Although it would be helpful to have concrete guidelines and rules that could generalize across situations regarding disability terminology, language itself is a phenomenon that evolves and varies over time in response to cultural shifts. People with disabilities have varied preferences about the language they use to describe themselves and what language they prefer to be used to describe them. At the same time, disability researchers, including the current authors, are often given prescriptive guidance by journal editors about the specific disability language they should use (i.e., person-first language). Thus, the tension between approaches to disability language underscores a need for open dialogue about a culturally informed choice of disability language in scholarly publications. Accordingly, this commentary discusses the history and evolution of disability language, explores current trends, and recommends language for academic articles.