Inclusive Language

What exactly is inclusive language? It’s a form of communication and a tool that creates a welcoming environment. It acknowledges diversity of experiences and identities and conveys respect to yourself, other individuals and communities. The language we use and the awareness we bring through understanding certain terminology can help us be more inclusive. We have all learned different terms and expressions through our friends, family, media, social media and more. Some of these terms and expressions are inclusive but some may cause harm to individuals and communities. Through the rest of the semester, we’ll introduce some terminology and resources to learn more. In addition, we will share some upcoming holidays & observances. Here are some recommendations to start:

Tips on How To Make Your Language More Inclusive

By now, it is almost cliché to say that language has power. Historically, language has been used to oppress, deprive, erase, or isolate. More recently, language has been seen as a tool of liberation, inclusion, and uplifting various voices. Educating ourselves and others and encouraging the use of inclusive language in our day-to-day can have a huge impact. If you are not sure where or how to start, here are six simple tips to make sure your language is more inclusive:

  • Use people-first language: people-first language keeps individuals as the most essential element; there is more to an individual than their descriptors. Try getting in the habit of putting a person ahead of their characteristics. For example, instead of “homeless person,” use “person experiencing homelessness.” Not only are you able to put someone’s personhood first but it indicates that one’s current housing situation is not permanent nor does it define that person. There are some people who do prefer to be identified with identity-first language so it is always good to ask individual people what they’d prefer if you are unsure.
  • Avoid idioms, jargons, or acronyms: jargons and acronyms can exclude people who are unfamiliar with specific knowledge on a particular subject. Many idioms also do not translate from country to country or even geographically across the US. Acronyms can sometimes be confusing and particularly when used in the workplace can shame people into not asking for clarification as they fear being perceived as unaware or inexperienced.
  • Avoid phrases that suggest victimhood: particularly when speaking about disability, much of the commonly used language implied that individuals are victims. Avoid using language like “afflicted by,” “victim of,” “suffers from,” or “confined to a wheelchair.” The same goes for euphemisms like “challenged,” “differently abled,” or “specially-abled.” Normalize using people-first language such as “he uses a wheelchair” or “she has paraplegia.”
  • Don’t underplay the impact of mental disabilities: terms like “bipolar,” “OCD,” or “ADHD” are descriptors of real psychological disabilities that people possess. They should not be used as metaphors for everyday behaviors or feelings. Also avoid derogatory terms that stem from mental health, including “crazy,” “mad,” or “psycho.”
  • “Guys” is not gender neutral. You may remember older textbooks, religious texts, or even largely distributed marketing materials use “he” and “man” as neutral terms to refer to anyone. However, the “universal male” assumption, such as using “guys” when you mean “people,” defaults human beings to being male, which is not the case. Examples of more inclusive terms include: everyone, all, y’all and friends.
  • If you’re not sure, ask. There is no harm in asking as long as you are polite and clarify that you want to make sure you are using the correct or preferred term. Include language that mirrors peoples’ choices and style in how they talk about themselves and avoid making assumptions. There is no shame in getting it wrong or not always using the most inclusive language available at all times. People make mistakes – if possible, apologize and promptly correct yourself and continue your conversation. We are all learning and growing.

Upcoming Holidays & Observances

October 15-24: Navarati, a nine day Hindu festival celebrating the triumph of good over evil.
October 18: International Pronouns Day seeks to make respecting, sharing, and educating about personal pronouns commonplace. Each year it is held on the third Wednesday of October.
October 20: Sikh Holy Day, the day Sikhs celebrate Sri Guru Granth Sahib, their spiritual guide.

Dates from Seramount