Using inclusive language means writing in a way that:
- is free from prejudice
- does not perpetuate stereotypes
- avoids discrimination by not linking certain attributes to a group of people.
Readers should not feel excluded from the audience being addressed in a communication because of their birthplace, cultural background, age, identified gender, sexual orientation, educational level or marital status.
To avoid where possible, marginalising readers through linguistic discrimination, write in inclusive terms. Some examples are provided below.
Race and ethnicity
When discussing diversity of race or ethnicity, there are some important dos and don’ts to remember. If unsure, ask the person being discussed how they would prefer to be referred to.
- highlight differences unless it is necessary
- detract from a person’s individuality through use of ethnic or cultural stereotypes, whether positive or negative
- use generic terms such as ‘Asian’, which fail to acknowledge the diverse ethnic backgrounds of people from countries such as Japan, China, Malaysia and Vietnam
- make assumptions about religion based on ethnicity; not all Arabic people are Muslim; not all people from India are Hindus
- perpetuate an ‘us and them’ mentality by use of terms such as ‘ethnic Australians’ or ‘white Australians’
- define people by their migration status by using labels such as ‘former refugee’ or ‘new arrival’.
- use generic terms such as ‘Australian’ to include all the diverse communities and individuals that citizenship and permanent residency cover; only use terms such as ‘Greek Australian’, ‘Vietnamese-born Australian’, ‘Jewish Australian’ or ‘Australians of Nigerian descent’ when it is necessary to specify a person’s additional cultural background
- use EAL (English as an additional language) as an alternative to ESL (English as a second language) or NESB (non-English speaking background), which suggest that not having learned English as a primary language is a disadvantage
- substitute ‘Christian name’ and ‘surname’, which assume a Christian and European/Anglo-Celtic background, for ‘first/given name’ and ‘family name’.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples
A person is Aboriginal. Aboriginal peoples are recognised as the original inhabitants of Australia. The Indigenous people of Australia are the Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islanders.
Australia’s Indigenous peoples are of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent, who identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, and are accepted as an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person in the community in which they live, or have lived.
The use of capital letters conveys respect and is grammatically correct. The upper case ‘Aboriginal‘ is more appropriate than ‘aboriginal’. Australians would not consider using the grammatically incorrect ‘australian’.
Inappropriate terms Appropriate terms Aborigines Indigenous Australian people/s The Aborigines Aboriginal people/s The Aboriginal people Aboriginal person Aboriginal, Aborigines First Nations people/s The Torres Strait Islanders Torres Strait Islander people/s Blacks Torres Strait Islander person Whites Full-blood / Half-caste Coloured
Indigenous peoples are not homogenous but are culturally diverse with different languages, customs, traditions, beliefs and heritage. Torres Strait Islander peoples should be recognised as a separate group. It is also preferable to break down further the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples by group. Abbreviations or shortenings such as ‘Islander’, ‘ATSI’ and ‘TSI’ should be avoided.
Different Aboriginal groups are known as language groups, Nations, or communities, depending on the context.
Murri Queensland, north-west New South Wales Nyoongah Western Australia Koori New South Wales Goori North Coast, New South Wales Yolngu Arnhem Land, Northern Territory Anangu Central Australia Palawa Tasmania Nunga Southern South Australia Ngarrindjeri River Murray, Murray Lakes, Cooring people, South Australia Torres Strait Island Peoples Torres Strait Island, Queensland Murray Island Peoples Murray Island, Queensland
Other references such as ‘of Aboriginal descent’, ‘has Aboriginal heritage’ and ‘of Aboriginal background’ fail to encompass what it means to be Aboriginal and should be avoided, along with terms that:
- diminish the validity of Aboriginal languages or culture (e.g. ‘pidgin’, ‘myths’, ‘legends’)
- inadequately conceptualise Aboriginal history in English (e.g. ‘dreamtime)
- have negative historical connotations (‘assimilation’, ‘integration’, ‘mission’).
When in doubt, consult Wirltu Yarlu for further advice or the Indigenous person or representative of the group you are writing about how they would like to be referred to.
Gender and sexuality
Historical gender stereotypes are perpetuated by language choices that demonstrate a male bias and unnecessarily make connections between gender and personal characteristics. For example, unless you have good reason, it is not necessary to specify whether a doctor is female (or a nurse male).
Masculine nouns such as ‘salesman’ and ‘mankind’ should be replaced by ‘salesperson’ and ‘humankind’.
Use of ‘he’, ‘his’ or ‘him’ as a generic pronoun should also be avoided. Instead, use ‘the person’ or ‘his or her’, ‘she/he’ and ‘her/him’, alternating the order of the male and female pronouns to indicate there is no preference for either. If possible, re-write the sentence so that it does not require the pronoun.
Please note: ‘their’ should not be used in place of he/she or his/her because it is grammatically incorrect; ‘their’ indicates a group of people, not an individual.
Every student must submit copies of the assignment to their lecturer.
Every student must submit copies of the assignment to his/her lecturer.
Marital status has the potential to be sexist, as ‘Mr’ does not indicate whether a man is married or not, but ‘Mrs’ and ‘Miss’ differentiate between a married and single woman. Instead of ‘Mrs/Miss’, use Ms.
Use of ‘husband’ or ‘wife’ also fails to acknowledge the presence of same-sex partnerships (and heterosexual couples not legally related through marriage) in the community, so it is more inclusive to use partner or spouse, which does not specify whether the relationship is between a male and female.
People’s preferences for alternative relationships to heterosexual partnerships must be acknowledged with respect. Previously, words such as queer and homosexual had negative connotations in society, but the use of ‘queer’ within the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, intersex, queer and questioning communities has recently gained popularity as a way for people to identify as being of diverse sexuality. However, this term should only be used by people who identify as queer themselves. Acceptable terms for people who do not identify as queer include:
- gay man
- bisexual man/bisexual woman
- transsexual person
- transgender person
Only use these terms if it is absolutely necessary to specify a person’s/group of people’s sexual orientation. Otherwise it is not relevant. If unsure, ask the person/group being discussed as to how they would prefer to be referred to.
Persons with disabilities
Historically, the language used to describe persons with disabilities has focused on the disability itself and not on the individuals and their abilities. This has led to the use of disparaging labels, stereotyping and depersonalisation, further entrenching the social and economic disadvantage that persons with a disability are subject to.
When persons with disabilities are mentioned it is important to describe the disability as secondary to their individuality and humanity. That is why we say ‘person with a disability’—by doing this we don’t define a person by the disability they experience, as do the terms ‘blind person’, ‘the deaf’, or ‘handicapped’.
It is also important to avoid stereotyping persons with disabilities as helpless, suffering or victims, (e.g. wheelchair-bound or AIDS sufferer) as they do not wish to be seen as such. Persons with disabilities would rather focus on what they are able to do.
The following is a list of exclusive and inclusive ways in which to describe persons with disabilities. If unsure, ask the person being discussed how they would prefer to be referred to.
Exclusive Inclusive The disabled/handicapped/physically challenged/incapacitated/special needs Persons with disabilities, people/staff/students with disabilities The blind or visually impaired People who are blind, people with visual impairments The deaf or hearing impaired People who are deaf, people who are hard of hearing Epileptic Person with epilepsy Wheelchair-bound/confined to a wheelchair Person who uses a wheelchair, wheelchair user Mentally handicapped, retarded, simple Person with an intellectual disability, person with learning difficulties Victim of AIDS, AIDS sufferer Person living with AIDS Spastic A person with cerebral palsy Mental, crazy, psycho A person with a mental illness Normal, able bodied People without a disability Disabled toilets/parking/lifts Access toilets/parking/lifts
If it is necessary to discuss the age of a person or group, it is important to avoid stereotyping certain age groups as more or less able: e.g. ‘teenagers are lazy’ or ‘old people are slow’. ‘Older’ and ‘younger’ are relative terms (unless you are providing context, e.g.‘older than 30’ or ‘younger than 18’). These relative terms are neutral so they lack meaning, but are unlikely to cause offense. Labels such as ‘kids’, ‘girls’ and ‘boys’, should be reserved for people under the age of 13.
Avoid using gender-specific terms for occupations: e.g. police officer not policeman.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics has released a second edition of the Australian standard classification of occupations that lists gender-free role titles. Refer pages 671–696.