Sanna Kramsi - I would if I could a guide to web accessibility

Inclusive language

One of the ways to combat ableism and discrimination is to use inclusive language. This topic is important regardless of the communication type. People are different and there are differences to the terms we wish others to use while referring to us. If you are unsure of how to refer to someone, ask them politely. Whether it be someone’s pronouns, disability, culture or anything else, it’s always good to aim for respectful and inclusive language.

General guidelines for inclusive language

Inclusivity is a wide term when it comes to language. If you want to be inclusive, you need to be taking lots of different people into consideration. You will likely make mistakes, but just by trying to change the language you use, you might make a huge difference. Don’t let mistakes or unpleasant experiences stop you from trying again.

Use people-first language

People-first language is a widely accepted language for referring to people with disabilities. The idea of this is to emphasize the person, not the disability. So always focus on the person first.

In practice, this means that you would, for example, not say "blind person" but instead "person who is blind". A disability is something that a person might have, but it isn't everything they are. But remember that people have preferences, so make sure to respect those.

There are a lot of other great examples in the Disability Inclusive Language Guidelines.

Avoid labels and stereotypes

While some cultures (or people) may not find even the most offensive-sounding stereotypes offensive, that doesn’t go for everyone. Don’t imitate a person’s accent even if it would be exactly like you’ve heard in some stereotype. Even if the stereotype was a positive one in your opinion, it might not feel that way for everyone. So aim to avoid stereotypes as a general rule.

Avoid labelling people with disabilities. Disability is a part of human diversity. Don’t tell anyone they are a brave, courageous or inspiring person just because they exist. Check the “I'm not your inspiration, thank you very much” talk by Stella Young if you want to find out more.

Prefer gender-inclusive language

It’s important to be mindful of how you refer to people. There are a lot of terms that could be improved. Avoid gendered language.

I’ve heard many people refer to a group of diverse people as “guys”. And they often specify that they don’t mean the term to refer to men alone. But since the term is a synonym for males, I would avoid using it. I don’t get offended if someone refers to me as one of the guys like in this example, but it doesn’t mean the word is ok to use this way. And every time I hear the word used like this, I get an unpleasant feeling.

Another common one is of course “ladies and gentlemen”. But instead of changing the term completely, I’ve heard some people start to add more or less condescending terms after the “ladies and gentlemen” part to refer to people who don’t feel like they belong to this group of people. Some people make it quite clear that they find it ridiculous that people shouldn’t be referred to just as “ladies and gentlemen”. Please don’t do that, no matter what you think of the matter. A much better term to use is just “everyone” or “folks”. With those, you don’t discriminate. And to be honest, I don’t think there is a real need to include anyone’s assumed gender in a greeting.

Avoid using any derogatory terms or slurs

Be mindful of the words you use. They matter. There are a lot of times you might not even realise that a word is bad. Especially if you aren’t speaking in your native language. So try to be open to learning and improving if anyone points out these things to you.

Pay attention also to common sayings you use. Some of the sayings have derogatory terms and slurs in them. Just because those have been used before, doesn’t mean they should be used.

If you forget something, don’t say you have Alzheimer's or dementia. If people aren’t trusting, they aren’t paranoid. If you feel annoyed when a pattern is out of place, you don’t have OCD. One word I’ve more recently learned about is “lame”. It has been used to describe some people with disabilities! I had no idea about that, luckily it’s not a word I have used often. But from this point onwards, if something is boring or not cool, don’t say it’s lame. This definition is not the real meaning of the word but slang. The original definition is still the one you get if you check the dictionary. So right now is the time to stop using that word.

If you follow pop culture, you might remember some commotion happening around Lizzo and Beyoncé. Both added a slur word to their songs. I won’t repeat the word here, you can find it online if you want. But luckily both removed the word after receiving criticism for it. But it’s still a shame the word ended up in the songs in the first place. This is maybe now a wake-up call to all of us to check the language we use. Especially if we share your content publicly. Let’s start learning together and let’s make the world a safer and more inclusive place.

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