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What We Do and Why We Do It
ACL was created around the fundamental principle that all people, regardless of age or disability, should be able to live where they choose, with the people they choose, and fully participate in their communities. By advocating across the federal government for older adults, people with disabilities, and families and caregivers; funding services and supports provided by primarily by networks of community-based organizations; and investing in training, education, research and innovation, ACL helps makes this principle a reality for millions of Americans.
ACL Today: A Snapshot
ACL was established in April 2012, bringing together federal policy and programs for older adults and people with intellectual and developmental disabilities that were previously housed in multiple organizations across the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and other agencies. Our portfolio has grown significantly in the years since with the transfer of programs from other agencies to ACL. These additions include a research institute; independent living, assistive technology, and traumatic brain injury programs; paralysis and limb-loss resource centers; and programs that help people navigate their Medicare benefits and the health system.
Today, ACL’s budget is just over $2.5 billion, and the agency awards several thousand grants and contracts to help people of all ages live independently in their communities.
This work has never been more important. There are 65 million people age 60 and older. All but a tiny percentage of them live in non-institutional settings, as do nearly 57 million people with disabilities. Both populations are growing, and older Americans are one of the fastest-growing demographics in the country; by 2020, there will be more than 77 million people over the age of 60.
ACL’s leadership, mission statement, authorizing statutes, history, reports to Congress and more are posted in the About ACL section of this site.
Contact us when you need info about:
- Changing landscape for older adults – nursing homes and assisted living facilities are not inevitable
- Home- and community-based services that help people live independently
- Challenges to community living for older adults and people with disabilities
- Healthy aging strategies/programs, including nutrition, brain health, falls prevention, chronic disease self-management and others
- Assistive technology
- Particular challenges for people in rural and tribal areas
- Preserving people’s right to self-determination: person-centered planning, impact of Olmstead, the “settings rule,” supported decision making, etc.
- Inclusion and integration; integrated competitive employment
- Elder abuse and efforts to prevent it
- Research and development to improve support for people with disabilities and older adults
- Increasing cultural competency and diversity programs in our programs and networks
- Special observances: Older Americans Month, Autism Awareness Month, National Disability Employment Awareness Month, World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, National Caregiver Month, etc.
- Anything else related to aging, disability (physical, intellectual, developmental, and sensory) and/or community living.
The language of disability and aging can be challenging, and many well intentioned story ideas can be offensive to older adults and people with disabilities. The good news is that there are resources to help you report fairly and respectfully, and advice you can pass to headline and crawler writers.
There are a few issues that are common in reporting about aging and disabilities. These include stories that:
- Infantilize older adults and people with disabilities
- Inadvertently celebrate segregating older adults and people with disabilities.
- Treat aging or disability as a "disease" or something to be cured.
- Use language that emphasizes a person's disability, rather than the person, or which over-emphasizes the tools used by people with disabilities. For example, it's usually better to say that a person "uses a wheelchair" rather than to describe the person as "wheelchair bound."
- Talk about an individual with a disability, but only quoting the people without disabilities who support them -- whenever possible, it is best to include the perspective of the disabled individual.
Person-first or identity-first language?
Person-first language literally means starting the description of the person with a noun that references them as an individual -- "person with a disability," "woman who is paralyzed," "man with an intellectual disability," etc.
Identity-first incorporates the disability as an adjective: blind woman, disabled person, deaf man.
Until fairly recently, person-first language was generally preferred by most of the disability community, although there have always been exceptions (most who are deaf or hard of hearing or autistic have long preferred identity-first language.) However, in recent years, more people with disabilities have begun to describe themselves using identity-first language.
It's best to ask your story subject what they prefer. If you're unsure, AP Stylebook says to use person-first language. However, at ACL, we now alternate usage when preferences are unknown or when the subject/audience includes people with differing preferences.
Resources to help
Say this, not that
These resources can help you stay up to date on language preferences and avoiding ageism and ableism in your stories.
- Society of Professional Journalists: Writing About People with Disabilities.
- The National Center on Disability and Journalism at Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication maintains an online Disability Language Style Guide.
- The National Disability Rights Network: Reporting and Writing About Disabilities
- Research and Training Center on Independent Learning (RTCIL) at Kansas University: Guidelines: How to Write and Report About People with Disabilities
- RTCIL also offers a webinar for reporters and a one-pager called “Do Say … Don’t Say” for quick reference when you’re on deadline.
- The New Old Age blog from the New York Times discusses what to call older people.
- NPR discusses the word “disabled" and mistakes to avoid when covering disability issues.
- The Columbia Journalism Review calls out highlights of the 2020 changes to the AP Stylebook, which include recommendations for how to describe older adults and new language on person-first vs. identity-first language when covering disability issues.
- American Psychological Association Inclusive Language Guidelines – These guidelines aim to raise awareness, guide learning, and support the use of culturally sensitive terms and phrases that center the voices and perspectives of those who are often marginalized or stereotyped in the community.
Still not sure? Call us — we're happy to help!
Understanding programs for older adults and people with disabilities
- The Association for Health Care Journalism explains the complicated funding streams of senior nutrition programs (like Meals on Wheels) with tips for reporters.