Thompson Rivers University
Thompson Rivers University

Inclusive Language

Language is a powerful tool for communicating inclusivity or discrimination. Language is not neutral. It is closely tied to the personality of the communicator and the culture and society in which it is used. 

Inclusive communication that respects and includes all communities is free from sexist, racist or other discriminatory language. It does not inadvertently exclude groups and it avoids stereotyping, loaded words and patronizing descriptors. Be empathetic in your communications. Consider your audience—are you leaving anyone out with your language choices?

Preferred terms change as language evolves. People’s views differ in terms of values, preferences and practices—be sensitive to these differences. There are no right answers to the use of some contested words. Where there are conflicting preferences, the terms used in Canadian law are acceptable.

It is important to consult regularly about language. Often different people prefer to be described in different ways. If possible, ask people for their preferred descriptors and honour individual preferences.

For further information, contact the TRU Diversity and Inclusion Committee.

Guiding principles

In all references, be guided by the preference of those concerned if possible.

Remember that there is a difference between in-group and out-group naming. For example, a person may have reclaimed a once derogatory term and may use this term to refer to himself or herself; however, the same term may offend when used by someone from outside that community.

Avoid stereotyping descriptors.

Avoid making distinctions on the basis of physical attributes, including age, unless these are necessary in the context.

Avoid using offensive language or assuming that all meanings and intentions will be understood.

Aboriginal inclusiveness

In all references, be guided by the preference of those concerned if possible.

Capitalize terms referring to a specific Aboriginal ethnic group.

Aboriginal Peoples, First Nations, Secwepemc, Inuit, Métis

Some preferred terms at TRU: Aboriginal, First Nations, Métis, Inuit, Indigenous. Note that while other institutions or manuals of style may not capitalize Aboriginal or Indigenous, the capitalization has become standard at TRU as one way of recognizing and honouring our Aboriginal connections. We capitalize "Elder" for the same reason.

“Aboriginal” is used in legislation to refer to Aboriginal Peoples of Canada. It is legally inclusive of Métis, First Nations and Inuit. The Federal Contractors Program identifies Aboriginal Peoples as one of the designated groups for employment equity.

“Aboriginal” is preferred at TRU as being reflective of the population of the TRU community, and recognizing the Secwepemc territory on which TRU resides. “Indigenous” is used for a more global acknowledgement.

Aboriginal Student Services
Chair in Aboriginal Child and Maternal Health
Indigenous working group for the United Nations
Indigenous Peoples of North America

Some Aboriginal people identify more closely with their tribal or linguistic group designation, e.g. Interior Salish, and prefer the use of the name of the community. Try to identify the tribal affiliation or community, e.g. Secwepemc. Use Aboriginal spellings for the names of communities. See Word list and Campus and community place names for the spelling of Aboriginal words commonly in use at TRU.

For further information, contact Aboriginal Student Services at 250-371-5508 or visit the Indigenous TRU website.

Sex and gender

According to the World Health Organization, “sex” refers to the biological and physiological characteristics that define men and women, while “gender” refers to socially constructed roles, behaviours, mannerisms, activities and attributes. “Male” and “female” are sex categories, while “masculine” and “feminine” are gender categories. Aspects of sex will not vary substantially between different human societies, while aspects of gender may vary greatly. In all references, be guided by the preference of those concerned if possible.

Use inclusive terms rather than those that make sex distinctions.

“humankind” rather than “mankind”
“staffing the office” rather than “manning the office”
“ancestors” rather than “forefathers”
“working hours” rather than “man hours”
“artificial,” “synthetic,” or “constructed” rather than “man-made”

Use parallel references to the sexes.

women and men; husband and wife

Avoid using the masculine pronoun as a generic pronoun. Use “he or she,” “him or her.” (Not “s/he” or “he/she,” “him/her”.)

He or she should contact his or her dean.

Preferably, re-work the sentence. As noted in the Brand Guide, TRU Style encourages use of first/second person, "we"/“you”, engaging an audience directly, rather than in the third person ("she" or "he" or "they").

Inform your instructor if you will not be able to attend.
Contact the dean if you need a new computer.

A noun that is clearly singular should not be used with a plural pronoun.

Students must inform their instructor if they will not be able to attend.
Incorrect: A student must inform their instructor if they will not be able to attend.

Use plural nouns with plural pronouns, or eliminate the pronoun.

Instructors who need a new computer should contact their dean.
Instructors who need a new computer should contact the dean.

Avoid indicating marital or family status or physical appearance unless necessary in the context.

When titles are used they should be used consistently for all people listed.

Use the neutral “Ms.” as a general rule, but if a woman has indicated a preference to be addressed as “Miss” or “Mrs.,” respect this preference.

Sexuality and gender identity

In all references be guided by the preference of those concerned if possible.

Mental and physical disabilities

The terms used to refer to people living with disabilities are evolving. Employment equity legislation speaks of persons with disabilities. “Person/people with disabilities” and “disabled people” are used for the most part interchangeably in disability scholarship. As in other cases, it is best to ask the individual what he or she prefers—and consider if the use of such terminology is even necessary in the situation.

Avoid defining people by their disorders or depersonalizing people by turning descriptors into nouns, e.g. “the disabled,” “the blind,” “an epileptic,” “a schizophrenic.” Put the person first, not the disability. Note in this example how the support is emphasized, not the disability that may benefit from that support.

If you are living with a disability, you may be eligible for supports such as exam accommodation, alternate format text material, sign language interpretation, access to adaptive technology, and the facilitation of in-class note-taking.

“Race” and ethnicity

Equity-seeking groups and individuals within these groups should be identified by the names they choose for themselves.

For further information, contact the TRU Diversity and Inclusion Committee.

Inclusivity in writing for the web

When writing for the web, inclusive communication should also consider accessibility. For example, users with low vision may rely on headers to help them navigate through a website. Distinct, descriptive headers will help such users find what they're looking for. See Best Practices: Using headings effectively in the Web Style Guide.

Similarly, ensuring that the Alt Text field for each image used on a site contains effective descriptions will improve the experience for those who are using assitive technologies.

Consult web accessibility standards such as Canada's Standard on Web Accessibility, which follows the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0), or the Unites States Access Board's Section 508 standard for more information.