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Published onMay 04, 2023

Disability 101: where to start

Defining Disability

There are many different definitions of disability, some of which vary by geography and local legislation (as with the UK’s Equality Act, Canada’s Disability Reference Guide, and the USA’s Americans with Disabilities Act). No universal definitions exist, but one commonly used definition comes from the UN’s Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which states that “disability results from the interaction between persons with impairments and attitudinal and environmental barriers that hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others”.

Some additional perspectives and resources on defining disability include:

  • Self Defined by Tatiana Mac : a modern dictionary of words and how they define us, which seeks to provide more inclusive, holistic, and fluid definitions to reflect the diverse perspectives of the modern world.

Scholarly Kitchen article: 10 Quick Wins to Make Your Organization More Disability Inclusive

This Scholarly Kitchen article was drafted by the Toolkit for Disability Equity in Scholarly Communications Steering Committee as a short guide for organizations that aren’t sure where to start in making their workplace more disability inclusive.

Language Guidance

As with legal considerations, preferred terms and language can vary both geographically (for example, identity-first language is used by the British government, while person-first language is used by the US and Canadian governments) and by personal inclination. Some guides to inclusive language around disabilities and other intersections of diversity include:

C4DISC’s Guidelines on Inclusive Language and Images in Scholarly Communications

American Chemical Society’s Inclusivity Style Guide: Disabilities, disorders, and other health conditions

  • The ACS Inclusivity Style Guide covers person-first and identity-first language, capitalization of health conditions, euphemisms related to disability, and a number of other disability-related topics.

Accessibility Standards

W3C WAI (Web Accessibility Consortium)

The DAISY Consortium

  • The Daisy Consortium is is an international non-profit membership organization that works with 150+ partners around the world to improve access to reading for people with print disabilities.

  • Inclusive Publishing is a DAISY Consortium initiative that collects resources, information, and news on the best approaches to producing, delivering, and reading accessible content - particularly for EPUB books.

C4DISC’s Guidelines on Inclusive Language and Images in Scholarly Communications

  • The section on Accessibility offers general guidance on accessibility considerations for text, images and charts, tables, and audio and video content, as well as a list of useful references.  


We have done our best to make sure that the information in this toolkit is accurate and up to date. That said, the toolkit has some limitations.

We are not lawyers. We are a community of publishing professionals, and this toolkit cannot take the place of legal advice. Laws, regulations, obligations, policies, and rights vary from country to country and within countries, and this toolkit cannot cover every possible variation. If you would like us to add information about disability-related laws in your country, please use our contact form.

Terminology: Different people prefer different terms (e.g., person-first or identity-first) to describe themselves, and the resources in this toolkit use a variety of terms as a result. When in doubt about how to refer to someone, ask them!

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Erin Osborne-Martin:

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