Inclusive Language

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Impact

Accessible content will reach the broadest audience. It has two primary components: plain language and inclusive language. Inclusive language promotes more inclusion and equity for your audience.

Plain language makes your content easy to understand because it reaches audiences with a variety of reading levels and cognitive abilities. To learn more about Plain Language, visit the Plain Language Guide web page

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Overview

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How to

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Global-First Perspective

Write using a global-first perspective where you assume every person on earth will eventually read your content. Don’t make assumptions about your audience (e.g. don’t assume prior knowledge of the topic). This starts with being mindful of how you use language and creating content that can be easily translated. 

When creating content for the web, be sure to use the language tag to indicate the language the content was originally written in (en = English, and es = Español [Spanish]). 

Avoid using metaphors or phrases that are specific to just one culture or demographic group. Examples include uniquely American sports references, pop culture, etc. 

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Speaking To and About People with Disabilities

When speaking to or about audience members’ characteristics, only discuss them when they are relevant to the content — otherwise, leave them out. 

While people with disabilities describe themselves in a variety of ways, write content from a “person-first” perspective when discussing someone other than yourself. This will allow you to focus the conversation on the person, no matter who they are. An example of “person-first” language would be to use “people with disabilities” instead of “disabled people” or “the disabled.”

Don’t assume people’s ability to see, hear, read, move or function in a particular way. Focus on the person, not the ability or disability. Always keep in mind that how someone speaks, understands, reads, functions or lives may change how they experience the world, but it is not their defining characteristic. 

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Inclusive Language Norms and Tone

Be aware of the meaning or connotations of certain terms. Keep your content free of terms or phrases that might imply bias and isolate or alienate your audience. Avoid words or language in your content that normalizes able-bodiedness. Also, avoid terms that can be perceived as patronizing, like “diversability” and “handicapable.” 

Some words have a history of discrimination or derision toward people with disabilities, as well. Examples include “duh,” “dumb,” “crazy” and “insane.” Avoid using words that have a negative history, even if you think the meaning has changed. Audience members may still carry that negative history with them regardless of how the word is used currently.

Be cautious when using words like “disorder,” “impairment,” “illness,” “abnormality” and “special” to describe health conditions or people. Unless it is a direct quote or proper name, it’s best to leave them out of your content. 

Perceptions and social norms change rapidly, so keep up to date on inclusive language best practices. For example, the term “handicapped” is not appropriate to use but has been used by government entities in the past.

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Resources for State of Colorado Agencies

Siteimprove: Siteimprove’s software helps to improve State website usability and accessibility by automating the process of finding errors and problems. Siteimprove alone will not make websites accessible but is part of a holistic approach to managing web services.

For questions about using Siteimprove, please contact the Technology Accessibility Program at OIT_Accessibility@state.co.us.

Don't have access to Siteimprove? Use these free browser extensions: