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In a section, I am writing using statistics including Black, White, and Hispanic. In the same section, I also reference a statistic for Students with Disabilities.

Should Students with Disabilities be capitalized or not? In this context is it a proper noun?

  • Welcome to EL&U. This is largely a matter of style; adhere to the discipline of your editor, publication, or organization, or in the absence of a house style, adopt a style manual appropriate to your audience and tastes and be consistent in its application. – choster Jan 17 at 17:31
  • Why have you capitalized Black, White, and Hispanic? Context doesn't determine if something is a proper noun or not. It either is or it isn't. Has it been given that name by someone? (Is Students with Disabilities the name of a group or department, or is it simply three words put together?) On the other hand, title case capitalization is something different. Headings and titles commonly use title case—and that's independent of anything to do with proper nouns. – Jason Bassford Supports Monica Jan 17 at 18:33
  • Interesting question, Jason. The source for the statistics I was quoting capitalized Black, White, Hispanic. The "Students with Disabilities" statistic came from a different source. I think I was looking for consistency in my narrative and that was not the approach I should have been taking. Thank you. – Ruth McLean Dawson Jan 18 at 19:20
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In most cases "students with disabilities" is a specific phrase but not a proper noun. As jargon in fields like Education and Disability Studies, I've usually encountered it and similar forms (people with disabilities) in lowercase. Here is an Ngram chart from 1980 to ~2010.

Google Ngram chart showing "students with disabilities" with a far higher usage rate than "Students with Disabilities"

I pulled a couple of articles to examine their use of nomenclature.

This one always puts "students with disabilities" as lowercase, alongside "male" and "female" (also lowercase) but puts "Black," "White," "Hispanic," and other racial categories in uppercase (example is Table 1 on p. 167). This study also conformed to that standard, e.g.:

Black students with disabilities had significantly lower scores than White students with disabilities on both LWI (–0.17 standard deviations) and PC (–0.23 standard deviations) at age 12.67.

It's only going to be a proper noun if an author deliberately makes it one.

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    I suspect some (most?) of the results with capitalization are from titles, although there's no way to verify this. – Laurel Jan 17 at 17:16
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    I can't view the paper in the first link, but are the racial categories capitalized purely for the table, or are they capitalized throughout the paper? This is off-topic from OP's question, but unless those racial labels are derived from proper nouns (e.g. place names), I wouldn't generally expect them to be capitalized either. Simply being a group isn't enough to make a noun proper. – A C Jan 17 at 17:16
  • @A C , the terms only appear in the table in that article, so it's hard to say. The second article does have examples in the main text: "Black students with disabilities had significantly lower scores than White students with disabilities on both LWI (–0.17 standard deviations) and PC (–0.23 standard deviations) at age 12.67" (p. 100). – TaliesinMerlin Jan 17 at 17:20
  • Very helpful response and comments! – Ruth McLean Dawson Jan 17 at 17:21

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