As mass protests took hold of the US after the passing of George Floyd, my inbox began flooding with advertising emails using”#BLM” as an opportunistic hashtag.
Among all that spam, lay an email that was not that. This gem of an email contained a guide on”Writing about individuals “, which I found to be instantly useful and applicable to my everyday work. This motivated me to make our own set of anti-racist writing guidelines for the whole team at Webflow. Despite all of the pandemic-driven Zoom-ing, composing still remained the major method of communicating within our group, and also with our clients.
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To help educate our staff about how language can produce experiences of grief and enable them to use more inclusive language, I worked with a team within our DEI council to come up with a set of inclusive guidelines. Below, I summarize some of the most impactful recommendations for creating more inclusive content, in addition to a downloadable reference sheet.
I hope this provides insight and advice on producing thoughtful, empathetic, user-centric, and inclusive content to as many people as possible.
The inclusive language reference sheet
- Avoid referencing age, race, or ethnicity unless it is absolutely relevant. If it is relevant, refer to race, age, or ethnicity as adjectives rather than nouns, e.g.”Hispanic individuals” rather than”Hispanics,” or even”older folks” rather than”the elderly.”
- When publicly speaking about individuals with disabilities, think about your audience. Some folks prefer identity-first language (handicapped person/people), though some favor person-first (people/person with disabilities). By way of instance, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) rule is person-first, but Webflow’s disabled community affinity group favors identity-first. When in doubt, ask.
- Avoid conditions that refer to psychiatric disabilities, like”crazy,””insane,””psycho/psychotic,” etc.. Alternatives: wild, hectic, unreal, unbelievable, etc..
- Avoid using”men,””man/men” or phrases such as them,”he/she,” or some other gendered language to refer to individuals (unless pronouns are confirmed ) or groups of individuals. Alternatives: people, team, all, they/them/theirs, humans/human beings, etc..
- The expression”identifies as” invalidates trans and non-binary people’s experience. Trans and non-binary people do not recognize as the sex — or absence of sex — they are that sex. E.g.”They’re non-binary,” not”They identify as non-binary.”
- Avoid referencing situations or using words or graphics that reinforce racial, cultural, religious, sex, or other stereotypes and biases. By way of instance,”Professors sometimes become so involved in their work that they neglect their wives and kids.” This would be more correctly stated as:”Professors sometimes become so involved in their work that they neglect their own families.”
- Prevent the term”non-white” or other terms that treat whiteness as a defaultoption.
- When referring to Black people, capitalize “Black.” When speaking to Native or Native people, capitalize”Native” and”Indigenous.”
- Terms like “blacklist,” “whitelist,” or “master” refer to metaphors about race and enslavement. Alternatives: block/permit/allow, main/primary
Frequently, the best way to compose more inclusively is to get more specific about what you are trying to say. E.g.”that is unheard of” instead of”that’s crazy.”