College of Liberal Arts & Social Sciences Theses and Dissertations

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disability, education, people-first language, qualitative


Scientists have often overlooked the language used to refer to people with disabilities as a method for excluding them, as language reflects attitudes and potential actions (Blaska, 1993; Froschl et al, 1984; Zola, 1993) . Recent legislation illustrates efforts to prevent use of derogatory terms in state laws and regulations (New Jersey Legislature, 2010), but little research to date has explored actual linguistic references to people with disabilities. This study uses qualitative interviews with students, parents, teachers, and administrators to explore the language used to reference students with disabilities. Results offer the first framework of language used to refer to people with disabilities, including people-first language, disability-implicit language, and disability-first language. Results demonstrate a great deal of variation in both the form and content of language, and provide a nuanced way to understand and potentially improve the language used to refer to people with disabilities.