Using Inclusive Language to Make Your Website More Accessible

jonathan Bossenger / October 17, 2019

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One common thing that connects all human beings is language. However, businesses often fail to understand the importance of using inclusive language on their websites. Consider the following advice and tips to make your content more inclusive for today’s world.

Defining inclusive language

Certain everyday words or phrases have actually marginalized particular groups based on characteristics like their culture, race, gender, or socioeconomic status. One such example is the simple and seemingly harmless use of the word “guys” to refer to any group of individuals. By using this term, we tacitly exclude anyone in the group who does not identify as a “guy.”

Inclusive language, on the other hand, avoids perpetuating this marginalization. Many institutions have published guidelines on using inclusive language, like Emerson College’s Guidelines for Inclusive Language.

Using inclusive language is one way we can treat everyone with respect and dignity. Inclusive language shows our audience that we seek to welcome everyone and to avoid making anyone feel devalued.

From a branding perspective, inclusive language shows your fans and customers that you care about their individuality and respect them as human beings.

Tips to make your content more inclusive

That said, changing the way we speak to our audience involves more than just using different words.

Here are some tips that you can follow today to write more thoughtfully on your website.

1. Use people-first language

Seek to use language that puts the person first and doesn’t define them by their characteristics. For example, instead of using a term like “a disabled man,” use “a person with a disability.” Using people-first language demonstrates that the individual is important to us, not what describes them.

2. Avoid negative phrases referring to disability

Speaking of disabilities, it’s best not to use words suggesting that a person is a victim of their disability. Don’t use phrases like “is afflicted by” or “suffers from” when discussing disabilities.

3. Avoid negative phrases referring to psychiatric issues

Avoid using the names of real psychiatric conditions as metaphors for common behaviors. For example, don’t refer to someone’s behavior or personality traits as “bipolar” or “OCD.” It’s also important to not use negative terms related to mental health to describe someone, such as “schizo” or “psycho.”

4. Consider gender identity

When speaking about an individual, never assume a person’s gender identity based on their name or their appearance — if you don’t know, use gender-inclusive pronouns. Similarly, use gender-inclusive language when speaking about groups of people. For example, use “everyone” instead of “ladies and gentlemen,” or use pronouns like they/them/theirs instead of he/him/his and she/her/hers.

Expanding your audience

Using inclusive language on your website requires a significant shift in the way you think. Ultimately though, it makes your content more accessible to a wider audience, which is undeniably beneficial for your personal or business brand.

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