The new Australian Government Style Manual advises us only to use disability in the uncountable form. This reflects the view that specific references to disability are stigmatising and do not treat their subjects as people first.
So, write ‘person with disability’, not ‘person with a disability’. We should also avoid using ‘disabled person’, which also promotes identity over personhood.
It’s useful to unpack the grammar to understand this further. Thanks to the natural approach to grammar learning, many young Australians might not know what an uncountable noun is.
Some nouns are countable – one dog, two dogs. They usually have a singular and a plural form. Most English nouns are countable nouns (or count nouns).
Some nouns are uncountable (or noncount) nouns – sugar, happiness, advice, economics, Spanish. Uncountable nouns do not use the indefinite articles a or an. They can use no article, or ‘zero article’, if what is being referred to is general or nonspecific.
And there is a group of nouns that are both countable and uncountable, called ‘double nouns’ – life, cheese, language … and disability. Consider these two sentences:
There are many different psychiatric disabilities. (countable)
Disability affects around 15 per cent of the world’s population. (uncountable)
The first sentence talks about specific conditions, the second talks about disability more generally, as a state. This is where the significance lies – ‘a disability’ is not a specific condition.
With these small changes, the removal of an article or plural form, we can help to make our language more inclusive and accessible to all.