AP Stylebook: Disabilities

Unless you are referring to any disability type, be specific about which disability you are referring to.

If data on disability will be reported, please contact the Office of Equity Diversity and Inclusion for the federally recognized disability categories.

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is marked by an ongoing pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development. Use person-first language: person with ADHD, person who has ADHD. Do not use the outdated terms attention-deficit disorder or ADD.

Disability vs. handicap

Use disability instead of handicap.

Disability-related metaphors

Avoid using disability as a metaphor, which perpetuates negative and disempowering views of people with disabilities.

Below are some disability-related metaphors and their alternatives:

  • Blind to/deaf to → willfully ignorant, deliberately ignoring
  • Crazy/schizophrenic → wild, confusing, unpredictable
  • Lame → boring, uninteresting, monotonous, uncool
  • OCD → fastidious, meticulous, hyper-focused
  • Cripples the service → slows down the service
  • Sanity-check → check for completeness and clarity
  • Stutter step, stuttering used as a verb to denote slowness, choppiness → sidestep, dodge, with hesitation


Dyslexia is a learning disability that impairs a person's ability to read. Although the disorder varies from person to person, common characteristics among people with dyslexia are difficulty with phonological processing (the manipulation of sounds), spelling, and rapid visual-verbal responding. Use person-first language: person with dyslexia, person who has dyslexia, rather than dyslexic, unless someone describes themselves that way.

Invisible disabilities

According to the Invisible Disabilities Association, invisible disabilities refer to a range of symptoms such as debilitating pain, fatigue, dizziness, cognitive dysfunctions, brain injuries, learning differences, mental health disorders, and hearing and vision impairments. Invisible disability is therefore a physical, mental, or neurological impairment that is not obvious to others, but may impact upon a person’s movements, senses, activities and day-to-day life.

Needs, differences vs. deficit, defect

In general, do not use terms like deficit, defect, abnormality, or problem in the context of mental health. Instead, use needs, differences, or challenges. The term disability is accepted and it may help to be more specific (e.g., intellectual disability, physical disability, language disability, etc.).

It is acceptable and helpful to use terms like abnormality or problem when referring to measurable medical incidences like abnormality of the fingers or breathing problems/difficulties.

Nondisabled person, person without disabilities vs. normal

When comparing persons with disabilities to others, use the term nondisabled person or person without disabilities rather than normal person, because normal is associated with abnormal.

When referring to someone without intellectual disabilities, use without [disorder], or neurotypical instead of normal.

Person who uses a wheelchair vs. wheelchair-bound

Use person who uses a wheelchair or wheelchair user rather than wheelchair-bound or confined to a wheelchair. Assistive technologies and services should be portrayed as helping and accommodating a person rather than making them “correct” or emphasizing limitation.

Person with disabilities vs. handicapped

Use person with disabilities instead of handicapped, handi-capable, differently abled, or the disabled. While individual preference for person-first (person with disabilities) or identity-first (disabled person) varies, default to using person-first language if preference is not known or cannot be determined.

This page last reviewed on January 17, 2024