Department for Health: Equality & Diversity

Documenting our journey towards equal opportunities

More than words

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We've probably all found ourselves in the situation at some time or another... We're part way into a sentence - maybe during a lecture, a conference presentation, or just conversation with our colleagues - and find ourselves unsure of what the politically correct language is to describe a particular group.

"Umm, errr... the errr.... they...those who...." ARGH!!!

Maybe, in these situations, you've pressed on, boldly blurting out a phrase that you feel is acceptable, reassuring yourself that the audience will know what or who you mean and forgive any inappropriateness.

 

 

"It's ok, everyone knows I don't mean any harm. It's only a word, right?"

Perhaps you've been challenged outright, like the Keynote presenter I witnessed being pulled up for their repeated use of the word "handicap". They were completely unaware of its derogatory association with people with physical disabilities who, historically needed to subsist as beggars ("hand-in-cap").

 

 

Language is a symbolic resource and words are rarely neutral. There are many possibilities for using language to define, trivialise or make people and groups invisible. Accordingly, ensuring that we use sensitive language is one way to help build more inclusive societies. This is why staff and students within the Department for Health (and University at large) are encouraged to use non-discriminatory and sensitive language in all communication.

Guidance on anti-racist, anti-sexist and non-disablist language can be found here (pages 13 - 15). Please do take some time to read the couple of pages dedicated to this topic.

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