Language is powerful and it can help to shift attitudes and behaviours. Inclusive language can help to promote and embed equality, diversity and inclusion. We need to practice empathy and consider the impact of the words and phrases we use on the experience of others. Everyone has different individual personal preferences about language and identity. Some tips in using inclusive language:
- Avoiding terms like “guys” for everyone and using gender neutral terms staff members, folks, volunteers, visitors or members.
- Examples like man vs the moon, are adaptable to humankind vs the moon.
- Instead of assumptions about biological parents and assuming that there is a mum and dad to say carer, guardian, parent, caregiver, grownup or responsible adult.
- We may often say it’s “awfully good”. Does this mean it’s good or bad? This is contradictory and confusing for international audiences and anyone who identifies with being on the neurodivergent spectrum, such as Asperger’s and Autism.
- Use factual language rather than value-laden words and phrases. For example, Old drivers are a liability (eek!) can be reframed. Better to say something like As we get older sight loss is more common and as a result driving may become difficult.
- Try not to erase certain groups with your language, or to lump together all people within a certain group, e.g. The Muslims, the single mothers, BAME Communities. Recognise the individual experiences within groups by referring to data. Outline generalisations, noting there will be exceptions to the rules.
- Ask in advance if you are not sure of something. It’s fine not to know something, but find out where to go to get reputable answers.
Do not use language that:
- Reinforces stereotypes or derogatory terms.
- Patronises or trivialises groups of people.
- Excludes certain groups of people. For example, assuming the white population is the norm.
- Causes discomfort or offence. For example, avoid words such as ‘elderly’, ‘aged’, and ‘senior’ and use more neutral language such as ‘older people’.
Why inclusive language is important
For communication to be effective, it needs to speak to all audiences for which it is intended. Inclusive language acknowledges diversity, and conveys respect to all people. It is sensitive to differences and promotes equitable opportunities. Language is fluid, therefore meanings and connotations of words can change rapidly. In effect, it is more important to apply inclusive language principles rather than always learning specific appropriate phrases, as these may change in meaning over time.