Since the 19th century, the civil rights movement has been pushing humanity towards an inclusive society, one that doesn’t discriminate either actively or passively, and values all its members equally. There has been many victories that have helped the advancement of inclusion, such as the Canadian Human Rights Act (1977) and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (1982).
As of 2019, Canada enacted the Accessible Canada Act, also known as an Act to ensure a barriers-free Canada. This act aims to ensure no one is discriminated because of their disabilities. It provides a solid legal framework so we can keep each other accountable to ensure that inequality is addressed, and more importantly we fix society so we can offer equal access to both tools and opportunities for everyone.
But, is that enough? It is not, as our culture, our behaviours are filled with built in exclusionary biases, that are even part of our language. To explore this, let’s see how well can you spot potentially exclusionary language. Below there is a few of paragraphs of text. Can you spot all the words and expressions that are not inclusive? Do so by clicking on them and pressing the button labelled “Check” when you are done.
Check below to see alternative words that are inclusive:
Words are just a very small example of the biases that exists in our society. Some of the paragraphs above validate non-inclusive ideas that validate those negative and discriminatory biases and only help prevent inclusion. As an example of this kind of built in bias: the same word can be perceived in Spanish as powerful if it uses the masculine gender, while in German the same word is seen as weaker when used with the feminine gender (Konishi, 1993). We do have to start somewhere, and words are a good starting point to change. If you want to explore the field of inclusive words and language, the Conscious Style Guide and the National Center on Disability and Journalism’s Style Guide are great starting places.
- Inclusion is a human right and we have to play an active role to ensure everyone is part of society no matter their age, gender, race, beliefs, sexual orientation or abilities.
- Non-inclusive biases are all around us as part of our behaviours, in our language, and we have to commit to eradicate them from our society no matter how uncomfortable that makes us.
Konishi, T. (1993). The semantics of grammatical gender: A cross-cultural study. Journal of psycholinguistic research, 22(5), 519-534.
National Center on Disability and Journalism (2018). Disability Language Style Guide
Quiet Press (2020). Conscious Style Guide