Inclusive language and terms

Estimated read time: 2 minutes 46 seconds

The language we choose to use is important. It can create a sense of empowerment, identity, and pride. But language can also have the opposite effect.

Sometimes it’s hard to know which words are the most appropriate. This guide will help you choose inclusive language. But, if you make a mistake, acknowledge it and apologize.

What is inclusive language? 

It’s using language that’s free from prejudice, stereotypes or discriminatory views of specific people or groups.

Readability and plain language

What is plain language? It's communication your audience understands the first time they read or hear it. Remember that many people speak English as a second, third or fourth language.

See Audience Diversity for more information on literacy rates in B.C.

Resource

Government of Australia's Readability Guide

Persons with disabilities

When communicating with or about an individual, check their preferred language. Not all persons with disabilities will have the same preferences. A good way to do this is to ask in a discrete way. Some people may be more comfortable sharing information than others.

When communicating about a population it’s best to focus on the person, not the disability. Best practice is to use “person with disability”. This puts the person first, and the disability second (when it’s relevant). Example: “people who are deaf” or “people who have low vision”

Identity first rather than person first language is preferred by some sub-communities within the disability community.

Be sensitive in your use of language. Chronic conditions, disabilities, and mental illness can be both visible and invisible. 

Don’t imply a person with disability is inspirational just because they experience disability. Implying they are courageous or special for getting through the day is patronising and offensive.

Don’t make out that people with disabilities are victims or objects of pity. Example: “suffering from…”, “afflicted by/with…”. Try using more direct language, such as:

  • Lee experiences depression
  • Ravi developed Multiple Sclerosis
  • Katya has epilepsy

Shift the focus from disability to accessibility. Acknowledge the diverse range of people who may have access needs, such as:

  • older people
  • parents of small children
  • people with temporary disabilities
  • people with invisible disabilities

Describe places like parking spots and bathrooms as accessible, rather than disabled or handicapped.

Indigenous Peoples

Indigenous Peoples is commonly used as a collective term for all the original peoples of Canada and their descendants.

There are three distinct and diverse groups of Indigenous Peoples in Canada:

  • First Nations (status and non-status Indians) describes people who identify as First Nations. They have distinct cultures, languages and traditions and connections to a particular land base of traditional territory. For more information see: First Nations A to Z Listing
  • Métis is a French term for “mixed blood”. It refers to the specific group of Indigenous people who trace their ancestry to the Métis homeland and are accepted members of the Métis community.
  • Inuit refers to a group of people who share cultural similarities and inhabit the Arctic regions of Canada, Greenland, Russia and the United States of America. Inuit is a plural noun, and the singular is Inuk. “Inuit” means “people,” so it is redundant to use “Inuit people.”

These terms do not represent a homogenous group.

“Indigenous people” with a lower case “people” is refers to more than one Indigenous person rather than the collective group of Indigenous Peoples.

Indigenous should always be capitalized.

If you are working with a specific group that identifies as First Nations, Inuit or Métis be specific, such as: Nisga’a Nation, McLeod Lake Indian Band or Westbank First Nation. Many groups dispense with the use of the term “First,” as in Kwakiutl Nation instead of Kwakiutl First Nation.

LGBTQ2S+

LGBTQ2S+ is an acronym that represents many, but not all, groups specifically. The acronym refers to lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, questioning and two spirit people, and the “+” recognizes that there are many more identities.

When writing content avoid gender-specific pronouns such as he/she, her/his, her/him.

Additional resources