Using Inclusive Language

NIU websites must be accessible to everyone. Part of accessibility is using inclusive language. Language is inclusive when it doesn’t exclude anyone based on characteristics such as gender, physical or mental disability, or cultural background. By using inclusive language, you can make your content more accessible and show respect to the widest possible audience.

Some of the ways you can make your writing more inclusive are:

  • Using person-first language (“people with disabilities” instead of “disabled people”).
  • Using they/their instead of him/his/her/hers, or rewriting sentences to avoid gender-specific pronouns.

Here are some more ways to make your writing more inclusive.

Avoid Assuming Ability

Part of accessibility is recognizing that our website users have different abilities. For example, we make sure that our websites are navigable using a keyboard alone, to accommodate those who don’t use a mouse. We also need to be conscious of what we assume about a user’s ability when it comes to the language we choose.

Using vision-related words such as “see,” “view” and “watch” (i.e., View the schedule) implies that the person is accessing the content with their eyes. However, our audience includes people with vision impairments who access our website in non-visual ways using assistive technology. To be more inclusive, consider using alternatives to vision-related words in links and other content.

Here are some alternatives to try:

  • Access (Access the schedule)
  • Check (Check current job openings)
  • Learn about (Learn about student resources)
  • Experience (Experience the webinar)
  • Catch up on (Catch up on the latest videos)
  • Explore (Explore upcoming events)

Avoid Assuming Cultural Background

It’s also important to use language that avoids assumptions about someone’s cultural background. Expressions that convey meaning using a cultural reference, such as “I’m looking for a ballpark figure,” are used in many U.S. workplaces. But they can be confusing to people from other cultures or whose first language isn’t English. Someone not familiar with the reference (baseball, in our example) might not understand what the expression means.

You can make your writing more inclusive by avoiding the use of jargon, metaphors and idioms. By using plain language, you can make your meaning clear to the widest possible audience.


These resources can help you learn about inclusive language:

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