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Disability Studies

Search Strategies

Search strategies


Some things to keep in mind when developing keywords and search strategies: 

  • There is no single, agreed-upon definition of disability.
  • Language for naming and describing disability changes over time and varies across regions and cultures. 
  • Terms and/or subject classifications used in academic or clinical literature may vary from language that is used in everyday speech. Some research employs a medical model of disability while other research embraces the social model or rights-based understanding of disability.
  • Critical theory may use its own critical vocabulary and jargon
  • Some terms related to disability may be used as metaphors in other contexts
  • There is debate among people with disabilities about people-first language versus identity-first language.
  • Older work may use dated terminology


For finding keywords to use in disability studies research, try this helpful text: 

Some keywords to try:

  • abledness, ableism,ableist, able-bodied, able-bodiedness
  • access, accessible, accessibility
  • ageism, ageist, aging
  • Deaf, deafness, deaf studies (some Deaf people consider themselves to be a linguistic/cultural minority, not disabled)
  • dis/ability, disability, disabilities, "disability studies", "disability rights", disabled
  • disease, dis-ease
  • enable, enabling
  • inclusion, inclusiveness, inclusivity
  • normalcy, normals, normative
  • sick, sickness
  • universal design

If you're looking for specific readings or theorizations of a topic, try combining your keyword with frequently paired terms like:

  • advocate, advocacy
  • biology, biological, bioethics
  • body, bodies
  • critical
  • difference
  • "disability studies"
  • discrimination
  • "identity politics"
  • medical, medicalization
  • microaggression
  • narrative, narratives
  • politics, political
  • representation, representations
  • rhetoric, rhetorical, "visual rhetoric"
  • signify, signifying
  • visible, visibility, invisible, invisibility, visual

Text for this section adapted from and courtesy of  UC Berkeley Libraries