Document Type


Date of Degree

Summer 2015

Degree Name

MA (Master of Arts)

Degree In

Leisure Studies

First Advisor

Mobily, Kenneth

First Committee Member

Cole, Kelly

Second Committee Member

Mozena, Emily

Third Committee Member

MacNeil, Richard


This study examines Midwestern collegiate and metropolitan newspapers to explore the differences in writing about disability language, terminology and tone. Specifically, this study focused on whether referential language and tone about people with disabilities differs depending on the source of the newspaper.

Data from six metropolitan papers and eight collegiate papers over forty randomly selected dates in the year 2014 was collected. The metropolitan newspapers analyzed were The Chicago Tribune, The Indianapolis Star, The Des Moines Register, Detroit Free Press, Omaha World-Herald, and the Journal Sentinel. The collegiate newspapers examined were The Daily Illini, Indiana Daily Student, The Daily Iowan, The Michigan Daily, The State News, Daily Nebraskan, The Exponent, and The Badger Herald. A list of key search terms was electronically searched in each newspaper and articles that fell on the forty dates were saved and analyzed. Each term that appeared in the article was evaluated on a Likert scale for language use and tone; the total number of pages of each article was also calculated. Statistical tests used were T-Tests and analysis of covariance (ANCOVAR). A visual analysis was also conducted using an online word generator called Wordle.

The results indicated that metropolitan papers used more preferred disability language than their collegiate counterparts. Both sources used an informational tone when referencing people with disabilities. Page length differences were statistically insignificant. Specific words repeatedly appeared throughout both newspaper sources: mental, disabilities, crazy, health and illness. While metropolitan papers also displayed preference for the following terms: elderly, elder, people, wheelchair, and older adults. Collegiate newspapers highlighted these terms: students, insane, madness, elderly and wheelchair.

An implication of the study is that the media sources selected represented people with disabilities in an informational tone rather than a sensationalistic manner. However, disability language needs to continue to improve and become more sensitive to people with disabilities and professionals who work with them.

Public Abstract

Language allows humans to convey messages to one another. One of our prime informational sources is through media. This study focused on the effects of newspaper representation of people with disabilities. Evaluating the terminology and tone used by journalists allowed for determination of the message that journalists were sending. The research question asked was: do Midwest college newspapers or newspapers belonging to major cities send more positive, informational (neutral) or negative messages about people with disabilities.

It was hypothesized that college newspapers would send more positive messages about people with disabilities because of their exposure to people with disabilities and disability issues. A selected list of terms was searched in eight college and six metropolitan newspapers. Concerned that metropolitan newspapers would have lengthier newspapers this study also analyzed total number of pages to ensure this would not be a contaminating variable.

In the end it was determined that both Midwestern college and metropolitan newspapers most often used an informational tone when describing people with disabilities. When looking at the wording used, metropolitan newspapers used more politically correct terminology than their college counterparts. However, both college and metropolitan newspapers could make improvements towards the most up-to-date language. It was also determined that article page length was not a factor in this study.


publicabstract, big ten universities, disability, mental health, newspapers, person first language, therapeutic recreation


ix, 32 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 31-32).


Copyright 2015 Kari Ellen Santos