Inclusive Language

A philosophy about inclusive language. Adopt a learning mindset, listen deeply and reflect.

There are plenty of posts out there that try to go into the details of the exact words you should use and when. This post will not list latest words that you should use. Instead, I'm going to give you a philosophy that will help you stay inclusive without needing to know all the language off by heart.

Let me start with a brief example. Here in the UK, understanding the social model of disability makes it clearer how the disabled community choose words. Saying "disabled employee" instead of "employee with a disability" adheres to the ethos of the social model of disability. It is the preferred language to use in the UK according to Scope.

The difficulty comes with context and location. Within certain contexts it is not uncommon to see or hear "employee with a disability", for instance, on some UK Government websites.

In the US the recommended language is the complete reverse to the UK. According to ADA (Information, Guidance and Training on the Americans with Disabilities Act) the preferred language in the US is to state the person first and the disability second, i.e. "employee with a disability".

So which should you use? In the UK it is better to say "disabled employee" and in the US "employee with a disability". Given that your teams will be full of multinational individuals you may offend someone with either option. It is better to listen to the team member you are speaking to and observe the language they use when describing themselves. Or, ask them how they prefer to be referred to.

If in a general setting you are questioned about the language you have chosen, adopt a learning mindset and ask them what would have been better language and why. If necessary, apologise for the use of inaccurate language and explain why you used the language you used.

Language is complex and it has the potential to cause hurt. We do need to be careful with it and we need to be open to learning but do not be afraid of the words. Instead, when in doubt, ask. When questioned, listen and welcome their reasoning and correct, with an apology, if necessary.

As a final note, like the charity, Scope, we use the language "disabled employee" as our audience is mainly from the UK.