The Power Of Inclusive Language - SACAP
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The Power of Inclusive Language: Bridging Gaps and Building Bridges

May 03, 2024 | By Dr Diana De Sousa
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In our everyday conversations, language is important in our daily interactions, from the media we watch to the newspapers, books, or academic papers we read in print and online. Language is more than just a communication tool; it also influences how we see the world, how we behave, and whether it includes or excludes certain individuals, groups, and communities. In this blog, we will explore inclusive language: its benefits, its limitations, and its potential to bring about positive change.

What exactly is inclusive language?

At its core, inclusive language is a conscious effort to use language that embraces and respects all individuals regardless of their gender, race, ethnicity, ability, sexual orientation, or any other characteristic. It is about acknowledging diversity and ensuring that everyone feels valued, included, and represented.

Let us explore some everyday examples of how inclusive language can benefit us:

Non-Gender Specific Pronouns

Instead of defaulting to “he” or “she,” using gender-neutral pronouns like “they” or “them” can create a more inclusive environment for individuals who or people who identify as non-binary. For example, instead of saying, “Each student must submit his or her assignment,” we can say, “Each student must submit their assignment.”

Parenting Books and Blogs

Parenting resources can be more inclusive by acknowledging diverse family structures. Instead of assuming all parents are heterosexual couples, using inclusive language like “parents or caregivers” can help ensure that same-sex parents, single parents, and other family types feel valued and included.

Healthcare Forms and Questionnaires

In healthcare settings, forms and questionnaires often use terms like “father’s occupation” or “mother’s maiden name,” which may not be applicable to all patients. To better accommodate individuals from non-traditional family backgrounds, using more inclusive language such as “parent/guardian’s name” and “parent/guardian’s occupation” can be more appropriate.

Customer Service Interactions

Customer service professionals can promote inclusivity by avoiding assumptions about their clients’ identities. Instead of asking, “Is this Mrs. Smith?” they can ask, “May I have your name, please?” This approach demonstrates respect for individuals who may not conform to traditional gender roles or marital statuses.

Educational Materials

Textbooks and educational materials should strive to use inclusive language to represent diverse perspectives and experiences. For example, history textbooks can include narratives from marginalized communities and use terms like “enslaved people” instead of “slaves” to emphasize agency and humanity.

Person-First Language

Person-first language emphasises the individual rather than their condition or identity. For instance, saying “a person with a disability” rather than “a disabled person” recognizes the personhood beyond the disability. This helps to reduce stigma and promote dignity and respect.

Inclusive Workplace Policies

In the workplace, using inclusive language in policies and communications can help foster a sense of belonging and promote diversity and inclusion. This can include using gender-neutral job titles and creating inclusive language guidelines for communication within the organization.

What are the benefits of inclusive language?

One of the key benefits of inclusive language is its ability to foster a sense of belonging and inclusivity. When individuals feel that their identities are acknowledged and respected, they are more likely to feel welcomed and valued in various spaces, whether it is in the workplace, academia, or society at large. Inclusive language can help break down barriers and create a more equitable and inclusive environment for all.

But what about the limitations?

It is important to recognize that while inclusive language is a powerful tool, it is not without its challenges. One example of this can be seen in the field of psychology, particularly with the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Historically, the DSM has used language that pathologizes certain identities and perpetuates stigma. For instance, terms like “mental retardation” have been replaced with more respectful and inclusive language like “intellectual disability.” However, there is still work to be done to ensure that the language used in diagnostic criteria is truly inclusive and sensitive to the diverse experiences of individuals, groups and communities.

Despite these limitations, inclusive language still has a significant impact on making things better. As people become more aware of diversity and inclusion, we are seeing a shift towards more inclusive practices in various fields. This includes changes in guidelines, curricula, and policies aimed at promoting diversity and equity. When we use inclusive language, we challenge outdated ideas and make room for everyone in the future.

But how exactly is inclusive language decided?

Using inclusive language is not just about swapping out words; it is a complex process that needs ongoing teamwork and communication. We must understand how words affect people, both individually and as groups. That means listening to different viewpoints, being open to feedback, and always making our language better to include everyone and show respect.

In conclusion, inclusive language has a lot of benefits, like making people feel like they belong and making society better. But we also must remember it is not always easy, especially in areas where language has shut people out before. By using inclusive language and making an effort to communicate fairly and respectfully, we can build a world where everyone feels valued seen and heard.

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