This guide is continually being updated. Last updated 18 November 2020.
Encouraged: Have a conversation with someone or a community and ask what their preference is. If you don’t know, or can’t ask, use the person-first model (described below). Depending on the individual and the community, both person-first (i.e. “person with a disability”) and identity-first (i.e. “disabled person”) are acceptable. Being specific where appropriate (i.e. “They are a wheelchair user” — note: people are not “bound” or “confined” to wheelchairs, they use chairs)
Avoid: Unnecessary euphemisms (i.e. “differently-abled” or “able-bodied”) – “person with a disability” and “person without a disability” are adequate; Using “normal” to refer to people without disability (implies an “abnormal” Other).
Cr*p / Cripple
|Slow-witted (also fuckwit, witless)
Sp*stic / Sp*z
WhackoPhrases such as “turn a blind eye”, “turn a deaf ear”
Note: Often some of the words above are used in contexts not intending to be derogatory. As alternatives to “cr*zy”/”insane”, we’re using “wild” and “ridiculous”. If you’re looking for alternatives to “stupid”, “silly” is a great option. For more comprehensive lists of alternatives, we recommend looking to Augsburg University’s handout resource.
Encouraged: Making asking/sharing pronouns commonplace; Trans* man, trans woman versus cis** man, cis woman; understanding trans does not always signify adherence to the gender binary (i.e. trans non-binary people).
*Transgender (Trans): an umbrella term used to describe people whose gender identity does not align with the sex they were assigned at birth.
**Cisgender (cis): an umbrella term used to describe people whose gender identity does align with the sex they were assigned at birth.
Note: The gender binary is inherently limited/limiting, and people’s gender identities & expressions can be fluid and flux.
Avoid: Referring to pronouns as “preferred” (they’re not preferred, they are mandatory). Saying that people “identify” as their gender identity; people just are (i.e. “They are non-binary, not “They identify as non-binary).
Tr*nny, tr*nsvestite; Asking invasive questions about anatomy, gender-affirming procedures, etc.
Encouraged: People of colour; Black people; BIPOC (in some circumstances, and this term is generally not common nor entirely accurate in Australia, as First Nations people here are Bla(c)k)
Avoid: Non-white people. Racial slurs (i.e. the n-word, g*psy, etc.) & racial stereotypes
Anti-(Non-binary) Transphobic Language
Encouraged: Everyone; All (i.e. “Hi all”); Folks; People; Friends; Literally any gender-neutral term for a group of people; Using gender-neutral pronouns “they”/”them” as default (i.e. “If they take the stairs, they will increase their heart rate.”)
Avoid: Ladies and gentlemen; Boy and girls; she/her and he/him as default pronouns (i.e. “If she or he takes the stairs, she or he will increase her or his heart rate.”)
Encouraged: Roles/terms that are gender neutral (i.e. “chairperson”); Roles/terms that aren’t unnecessarily suffixed (i.e. “wait staff”, “actor”, “host”); As above, there is a range of terms to use for groups.
Avoid: Roles/terms that default to men (i.e. “chairman”); Roles/terms that add a suffix to indicate womanness (i.e. “waitress”, “actress”, “hostess”) “Guys” (this is a complicated one, as some say the word “guy/s” has been absorbed and is no longer a gendered term, while others disagree. This is a great opportunity to talk to your people, internal and external, and see what people’s preferences are).
First Nations Language
Encouraged: Have a conversation with someone or a community and ask what their preference is. If you don’t know, or can’t ask, use the term Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (always capitalised and written in full).
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples / communities / cultures / languages (in plural unless being specific);
First Nations peoples / communities / cultures / languages;
Aboriginal (capital; an adjective, not a noun); Being specific about the nation, family, or people group (when known and appropriate)
Avoid: Indigenous (unless referring to a specific agency or organisation’s name); Indigenous Australians; Aboriginal Australians; using acronyms (i.e. ATSI).
Mob (in relation to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities; this is a word used in these communities and should generally be avoided by non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander folk)
Tribe/s (in relation to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, but also in general: i.e. do not ask our members to “Find their tribe.”)
Other words that have been absorbed into popular lexicon but are words of First Nations peoples around the world (i.e. powwow, spirit name/spirit animal).
Do you have any suggestions or resources to add? Please let us know.
The language of Disability
PWDA – What do I say? A guide to language about disability
Divesting Myself of Ableist Language
“Stupid” is an Ableist Slur: Breaking Down Defenses Around Ableist Language & Liberating Our Words
15 Crazy Examples Of Insanely Ableist Language
Developing a Vocabulary to Talk about Race in the white Home: One Family’s Experience
Glossary – Anti-Racism Toolkit – Guides at Georgetown University
AP Stylebook adds new umbrella entry for race-related coverage, issues new hyphen guidance and other changes
First Nations Language
Preferences in terminology when referring to Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples
What is the correct term for Aboriginal people?
Stop using these Indigenous references and terms they’re offensive
- CreateHERstock free stock image library focused on representing African American women.
Getty has launched a new subcategory on Getty Images: the Disability Collection.
- On Getty, you can also find more collections, such as the No Apologies collection, which includes images of women with different body sizes and skin tones than are usually shown in the media.
- The Fluid Self is Adobe’s collection of images which includes a more diverse range of people and fluid identities.
- Further resources for representative stock images can be found on Representation Matters; the #WOCintech photostream on Flickr—which features stock images available under a Creative Commons Attribution License.
- Push Living—where you can find disability-inclusive stock photos.