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Being accessible and discussing disabilities and health issues

Ensure communications are broadly accessible. And brush up on ways to skillfully navigate conversations around disabilities, disorders, and other matters of health

by Rajendrani Mukhopadhyay, ACS staff
October 15, 2023 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 101, Issue 34

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Credit: ACS

In the early 2000s, I was in graduate school earning my PhD in the field of microscopy. Optical microscopy images are rampant with red and green fluorescent labels. It embarrasses me to confess that I didn’t give much thought to the color choices until a decade later, when I was working with a colleague who was red-green color blind. He was trained in cellular and molecular biology and was constantly faced with images and microarray data that also relied on red and green fluorescent labels. He was resigned to the fact that he had to work harder than people without the condition to understand images that didn’t have helpful captions.

Unfortunately, some groups of people have to do more than others to stay on the same playing field with the rest of the population. But if we want everyone to have a fair chance of success, we need to create equitable opportunities to succeed. No one should have to work more or not be able to work at all because of a disability, disorder, or other health condition.

That is why the ACS Inclusivity Style Guide has a section on accessibility. Accessibility ensures people with auditory, cognitive, neurological, physical, speech, or visual conditions can have equal opportunity to perceive, comprehend, and use content. The accompanying tip sheet is reproduced here.

The other tip sheet that’s included in this edition of C&EN is about disabilities, disorders, and other health issues. We should be intentional when describing a person who has a disability, disease, or another condition. It’s a very human fault to immediately have biased perceptions of a person because of their health. The tip sheet, for example, advises people to use neutral language when describing a condition and not suggest the person is to be pitied.

These tip sheets are part of a six-part series in C&EN. To see the ACS Inclusivity Style Guide in its entirety, go to We welcome your feedback on the guide through emails to If you have suggestions for other types of resources that will help you create an inclusive and welcoming environment for you and others around you, email the American Chemical Society Office of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Respect at


Like what you’ve read? See the full guide and the most up-to-date tip sheets from the American Chemical Society at


For more context, review the “Accessibility” section of the Inclusivity Style Guide. Use this tip sheet in combination with the “General guidelines” tip sheet.

Don’t forget alt text

Alt text provides people who use screen readers a description of any nontext element, so it is essential for helping those with low or no vision understand a web page. Provide clear, concise alt text for all images. When a longer description is needed, options include providing a text summary beneath the graphic or in a linked document.

Avoid images of text

Using an image of text instead of actual text means that people using screen readers will not be able to access the information. Choose text, an HTML data table, or other languages supported by the platform to share text, formulas, equations, or diagrams.

Make transcripts and captions available

Transcripts make videos and podcasts accessible to people who are deaf or hard of hearing. They are also useful to anyone that benefits from reading information. Captions are also a necessary accessibility feature for videos.

Choose colors carefully

Adjacent colors should generally follow minimum contrast requirements set by the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. Also, use a combination of colors and symbols or text rather than color alone to communicate information.


Disabilities, disorders, and other health conditions

For more context, review the “Disabilities, disorders, and other health conditions” section of the Inclusivity Style Guide. Use this tip sheet in combination with the “General guidelines” tip sheet.

Be mindful of people-first and identity-first language

People-first language (e.g., “person with autism”) and identity-first language (e.g., “autistic person”) are two ways of considering a condition. Use whichever the person or group prefers.

✓ Use: people with disabilities, the disability community
⦻ Avoid: the disabled

Use neutral language

When describing a health condition, use neutral terms like “with” or “has” rather than terms that connote pity or imply a person has a reduced quality of life.

✓ Use: She has cancer.
⦻ Avoid: She suffers from cancer.

Avoid stigmatizing language

Words such as “abuse” have connotations of crime and violence. Instead of “drug abuse,” use the term “misuse” or an adjective in combination with the word “use.”



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