My letter to the Purdue OWL coordinator

Good evening, [Moderator],

My name is [Modwyn], and I’m teaching a business writing course at [my university]. My students are beginning a unit on appropriate language use, and I’m directing them to the OWL’s excellent entry on this topic.

While reviewing the entry on stereotyped and biased language, I couldn’t help but notice the omission of any language relating to disability. As a disabled writer, I’m well aware that the language used to describe disability is highly contested among disability rights activists and scholars. Though members of the disabled community may not unanimously vote for the same terms or the abolishing of person-first language, I can safely say that a list of offensive terms definitely exists. I bring this to your attention because mainstream sources often employ and laud these terms: “differently abled” is a fine example.

I imagine that adding disability to the categories already listed on this page would be an ambitious project, but I believe it’s a worthy one. Many students may find themselves writing for disability services organizations or medical organizations that regularly address disability and disabled people in less-than-human terms. Many professors who frequent this page may realize that the commonplace language of disability – so rarely chosen by the people it discusses – is just as inappropriate as the linking of intelligence and hair color. Even a short paragraph addressing some of the flagrantly passe words and phrases would be a gesture of inclusion to any reader connected personally or professionally with disability.

Thank you for maintaining these excellent resources and helping us share in the delight of teaching writing.

With best,

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