Disability and hypersensitivity
A reader wrote to one of our reporters, complaining that she stopped reading an article when she came to a reference about Maryland’s new alcohol tax that some of the proceeds would be used to assist disabled people. “Horrible and offensive,” she wrote. It should have been people with disabilities—put people first and disabilities second, she said.
Following the Associated Press Stylebook,* The Sun does not use disabled as a label for a specific person, but there is no objection to using it to describe classes of people. The subtlety of “people with disabilities” as distinguished from “disabled people” looks more finicky than meaningful. A person with a disability is, by definition, disabled.
I understand the point that it is undesirable to define a person’s identity by a disability. But unless we are to stop talking about white people or black people or female people or older people or sick people for fear of defining them in limiting categories, we ought to allow the adjective to precede the noun. It usually does in English.
While The Sun, also like AP, avoids disparaging terms—“cripple” and “retarded,” for two—it also avoids euphemisms like “physically challenged.”
We prefer neutral, factual terms, and “disabled” is still one of them.
*It has its lucid moments.