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How the university communicates about people with disabilities, including accessibility practices, can create a more inclusive campus experience for many Spartans. 

The use of person-first or identity-first language is an ongoing discussion in the disability community. These terms reflect bigger perspectives and conversations surrounding what disability is and how it relates to personhood.

Person-first language puts the person before the disability and describes what a person has, not who a person is. For example, phrases such as “students on the autism spectrum” or “individuals with disabilities” is an effort to move directly away from historically offensive phrasing, while affirming humanity. Person-first language is the acceptable etiquette for most circumstances.

More recently, a growing number of people within the disability community are using identity-first language. This approach puts disability first in the phrase, such as “autistic person.” For people who prefer identity-first language, it is often a point of empowerment and pride. If a person selects identity-first language, respect that decision. As always, the recommended practice is to ask individuals how they would like to be referred. 

Accessible web pages and digital documents are the responsibility of every MSU community member. MSU’s Web Accessibility Policy defines the accessibility requirements for university web pages and digital content and contains resources, learning tools and training for creating accessible documents and other web and digital content.  

Accordingly, use closed captioning for videos. Provide Word document versions of PDFs. Practice accessible design and include a text description for all images. Use styles and headers when preparing Word or text-heavy documents to provide clues about important information that can be helpful to individuals with learning disabilities and screen readers.

  • Maintain the confidentiality of a person’s disability. Do not disclose an individual’s disability without their consent and then only as necessary.
  • Expand the representation of people with disabilities in photos and visual materials to include invisible disabilities.
  • “Impairment” has a negative connotation. Avoid terms like “visually impaired” or “hearing impaired.” Instead use the terms, “blind” or “low vision” or “deaf/hard of hearing."
  • “Confined to a wheelchair” or “wheelchair bound” describes a person only in relation to a piece of equipment designed to provide independence rather than confine. Emphasize what a person can do, not their limitations, such as “person who uses a wheelchair” or “wheelchair user.”
  • Avoid using the term “special needs.” This term is patronizing, as everyone has needs and the needs of individuals with disabilities are not “special.”  
  • Use person-first or identity-first language instead of “differently abled,” “physically challenged” or “happens to have autism.”
  • Functioning labels are common when describing the nature of someone’s disability, like “high-functioning” and “low-functioning,” which can vary per activity and imply judgment. Unless you are quoting a source, consider specifying the relevant activity. “The first-year student resides off-campus and accesses the Resource Center for Persons with Disabilities for accessible textbooks and assistive technology services. They have strong verbal skills but sometimes miss social cues.”
  • Do not describe an individual as mentally ill unless it is pertinent and the diagnosis is properly sourced. Mental illness is a general condition. Specific conditions should be used whenever possible.
  • Many experts distinguish between mental illness and developmental disorders. Unlike mental illness, which can be successfully treated, developmental disorders are lifelong disabilities affecting a person’s learning ability. “Neurodiversity” is the term used to refer to people with developmental disorders, including autism spectrum disorder, dyslexia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, cerebral palsy, etc.
  • Only capitalize names of disorders, diseases, therapies and related terms when known by the name of a person, such as Parkinson’s disease.
  • Avoid ableist language and be inclusive of the perspective of those who have a disability. When writing or speaking in a conversational tone, this language tends to emerge in everyday language and as figures of speech that intentionally or unintentionally discriminate or oppress individuals with disabilities. Refer to the “terms to avoid” section for examples. 
  • When asking about accessibility needs for events, center on what is being provided, use “to request an accommodation to participate in this event” instead of “to request accommodation for persons with disabilities.”
  • When describing an event, identify the accessible entry points to the venue, including the locations of all-gender and accessible campus restrooms and utilize the barrier-free webpage for information on accessible entrances on campus. Consider ways to be inclusive for walk/run or other events. 
  • When presenting at events, consider introducing yourself with a brief description of your appearance that can include clothing, hair, eye color and skin tone. Speakers should re-introduce themselves by identifying their names before they speak. Presenters should describe all visual images, graphics, text or tables/charts that appear on screen. Accessible copies of presentations should be provided prior to an event. Presenters should always use a microphone to amplify their voices.
  • For boilerplate language for inclusive programs, events and courses, visit the Resource Center for Persons with Disabilities.
  • Representing diversity of size in communication and being sensitive to language is essential. Be aware that the terms “obese,” “obesity” and “overweight” are pathologizing stigmas in the size-diversity community. Do not use these when describing individuals outside of communicating about research. Use “higher weight” or “larger-bodied” if necessary and consider the barriers that “students of size” face in marketing, events and classroom experiences.
  • Referring to individuals with disabilities as nouns. For example, avoid using of the terms “an autistic,” “an epileptic” or “the disabled.”
  • Ableist language: “crazy,” “insane,” “bonkers,” “nuts,” “psycho,” “demented,” “senile,” “loony,” “lunatic,” “psychotic,” “addict,” “invalid,” “vegetable,” “paralyzed,” “lame,” “madhouse,” “tone-deaf,” “spazzing out,” “braindead” or “blindly.” When writing a DEI-related stance or inclusive messaging on sensitive topics, avoid metaphors that draw attention to specific disabilities such as, “the blind leading the blind.”
  • Do not use “obsessive-compulsive disorder,” or “OCD,” “attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder”, or “ADHD,” “post-traumatic stress disorder,” or “PTSD,” or any other condition to describe undiagnosed behavior.
  • Do not use “able-bodied” or “normal” when referring to people without disabilities. Instead, use the terms, “an individual without a disability,” or “neurotypical” to describe an individual without a learning disability, autism, ADHD, etc.
  • “Midget” is a derogatory slur. Instead use the terms “people of short stature” or “having dwarfism.”
  • “Stricken with,” “suffers from,” “victim of” when referring to a disability.
  • Terms that label a group the “disabled/handicapped,” “crippled” or “deformed.”
  • “Mental retardation” is offensive and outdated. Use “developmental disability,” “cognitive disability” or “intellectual disability.”
  • Refrain from using the word “special” when writing about persons with intellectual disabilities. 
  • “Unfortunate” when talking about people with a disability. Impairment does not have to be life-defining in a negative way.
  • “Mongoloid” or “downs” is derogatory. Use “person with Down syndrome.”
  • The term “substance abuse” is considered outdated and perpetuates shame and trauma. Instead, use “substance use” or “substance use disorder.”
  • Instead of “crazy,” use “wild,” “irrational,” “ridiculous,” “silly,” “absurd” or “outrageous.”
  • Instead of “OCD,” use “fastidious,” “overscrupulous,” “perfectionist” or “meticulous.”
  • Instead of “visually challenged,” use “blind” or “low vision.”
  • Instead of “birth defect,” use “congenital disability.”
  • Instead of “epileptic fit,” use “seizure.”
  • Instead of “brain damage,” use “brain injury.”
  • Instead of “handicapped parking,” use “accessible parking.”