Yesterday, the official AP Stylebook Twitter Account responded to a query about describing wheelchair users. Here’s the exchange:
@APStylebook Phrase “wheelchair user” is in 2015 handbook, but I still see “confined to”/”disabled” used. How does this change? #RaganChat
— Alison Carville (@AlisonCarville) June 21, 2016
We suggest not describing an individual as disabled or handicapped unless it is clearly pertinent to a story. https://t.co/ZBXtsS3MCo
— AP Stylebook (@APStylebook) June 21, 2016
I understand what the AP Stylebook is trying to do here, but I’m concerned it leads to disability erasure. Having spent a few years now carefully tracking media references to disability and police use of force, I’ve noted that disability often quickly drops out of stories in ways that obscure the true scope of the problem.
There are, of course, many times in which referring to disability wouldn’t be appropriate and might even be stigmatizing. For example, let’s assume Jane is not disabled and Joe is disabled.