Inclusive Language Guide

Humber College Inclusive Language Guide – March 2022

Please note that this guide is intended to provide a high-level overview of inclusive language and highlight terminology not to be used. It is not an exhaustive resource. Readers are encouraged to do additional research for historical and current context. This resource will be updated annually to reflect the latest information available. If you have questions about this guide, contact Aaron Rathbone, PR and Communications Manager at


  1. Introduction and Guiding Principles
  2. Abilities and Disabilities
  3. Indigenous Peoples
  4. Sex and Gender
  5. Sexuality and Gender Identity
  6. Race and Ethnicity
  7. General Notes

1. Introduction and Guiding Principles

Humber strives to create an inclusive, supportive environment for all people. It is our responsibility to extend this commitment to inclusion into every text and publication.

This language guide is informed by the principle of intersectionality, which recognizes that people have intersecting identities, and that some people carry multiple oppressions. Terms change as language evolves and this guide will also change and be updated over time. People’s views differ in terms of values, preferences and practices, and writers should be sensitive to these differences.

2. Abilities and Disabilities

The person should always come first – not the disability. Use language that emphasizes ability rather than focusing on a person’s disability.

Use the following:

  • a person with a disability; persons with a disability (not people)
  • a person with cystic fibrosis

Do not use “the disabled.” If it is appropriate or required, explain a person’s disability instead. For example. “Mary has a neurological condition and uses a wheelchair.”

A disability does not define a person.

For example:

  • “Malik has a disability” or “Malik is disabled,” not “Disabled man, Malik”

Avoid labelling or defining people by their disabilities. Do not call a person “a schizophrenic” or a group of persons “the blind.” Write “a person with schizophrenia” or “persons with loss of vision.” Keep in mind, too, that some individuals or groups may dislike the use of certain terms, such as impaired or blind. Use the term preferred by the individual/individuals. If you are unsure, ask.

Do not use terms such as handicapped, crazy, physically challenged, and as noted above, the disabled.

Some people and groups have reclaimed language that was historically considered derogatory, so always ask for guidance and clarification. Always defer to the preference of the individual. For further guidance, you may also consult resources from agencies focused on the disability you are writing about.

Whenever possible in general writing, avoid the use of words related to ability (note the use of the word “see” below, for example):

  • Instead of saying, “See this link for more” use “More information available here” or “Find the link available here” for a more inclusive statement.

Please also note that chronic conditions and disabilities, including mental illness, are both visible and non-visible. Don’t assume that because you don’t know someone is living with a disability that they are not.

Use person-first language when writing about mental health.


  • “People with a mental illness”
  • “They are living with a mental health issue” 
  • “They are living with addictions”


  • “They are mentally ill”
  • “They are an addict”

Equity-deserving groups

Equity-deserving/equity-owed groups refer to communities that were historically and who are currently underserved and underrepresented. These groups include Women, Persons with Disabilities, Racialized Persons, Persons from Diverse Gender Identities and Persons who Identify as 2SLGBTQ+.

Do not use “equity-seeking” as this term implies that a person is asking, giving someone else power to decide. Equity is a right, not something that can be given.

Terms such as “dominant” and “marginalized” are used to describe socially constructed power dynamics within a given context that is based on white supremacy. Avoid describing groups as “marginalized.” Describing people this way centres and reinforces the power of Whiteness and perpetuates the idea of powerlessness of anyone else.

3. Indigenous Peoples

There are three distinct groups of Indigenous Peoples in Canada: First Nations (status and non-status), Inuit, and Métis. Humber College is located within the traditional and treaty lands of the Mississaugas of the Credit.

Where possible, avoid using the terms Aboriginal People or Native People, as they do not encompass the separate origins and identities of the various groups. Indigenous Peoples is preferred, as noted in Humber’s Four Seasons of Reconciliation training. Indigenous should be  capitalized.

First Nation or Nations is widely accepted and has generally replaced the term Indian (although some individuals still prefer to be called Indian). First Nation(s) is widely used by status and non-status Indians (as described in the Indian Act). It does not include Métis and Inuit people.

First Nations people come from different areas or Nations and have distinct cultures, languages and traditions. When possible, avoid referring to First Nations people as a homogeneous group. Include someone’s specific Nation, community, or band (use the spelling the band prefers).

Canadian Press notes that the word Métis originally applied to descendants of French traders and trappers and Aboriginal women in the Canadian northwest. “Métis” means a person who self-identifies as Métis, is of historic Métis Nation Ancestry, is distinct from other Aboriginal Peoples and is accepted by the Métis Nation. These individuals could be described as “non-status.” “Historic Métis Nation” means the Indigenous people, then known as Métis or Halfbreeds, who resided in the Historic Métis Nation homeland. Many Canadians have this mixed ancestry but not all describe themselves as Métis.

Although Inuit people live throughout Canada, the Inuit population often lives in small settlements above the tree line from Labrador to Alaska. Inuit is the Inuktitut word meaning “the people,” and the singular of Inuit is Inuk. Do not use the term eskimo.

Use the word “reserve” only when referencing the physical location of a First Nation. For example, “I live on the Attawapiskat First Nation reserve.” Note that the term “traditional territory” is not synonymous with “reserve.”

Otherwise, use the full First Nation name. For example, Chippewas of Rama First Nation or Mississauga of the Credit First Nation.

4. Sex and Gender

According to the World Health Organization, sex refers to the biological and physiological characteristics that define males and females. Gender refers to socially constructed roles, behaviours, mannerisms, activities and attributes. Male, female and intersex are sex categories, while gender categories include men, women, trans, non-binary and two spirit, among many others. Aspects of sex will not vary substantially between different human societies, while aspects of gender may vary greatly.

In all references, be guided by the direction of those concerned. For instance, if an individual’s pronoun is “they”—a word that avoids gender binaries—rather than “him” or “her,” honour and respect that usage.

If the individual uses a combination of gender pronouns, like “she/them,” it may mean that those pronouns are used interchangeably or that they use one pronoun more frequently than the other. Always check with the person if you are unsure.  

Avoid saying “preferred pronoun” as it presents chosen pronoun use as optional, rather than necessary.

In writing about someone who uses the singular they, follow plural verb conjugations that align with conversational use (e.g. use “they are” rather than “they is”).

Use inclusive terms rather than those that make sex distinctions.

  • “humankind” rather than “mankind”
  • “staffing the office” rather than “manning the office”
  • “ancestors” rather than “forefathers”
  • “working hours” rather than “man hours”
  • “artificial,” “synthetic,” or “constructed” rather than “man-made”
  • “people power” rather than “man power”

Use parallel references to sexes (women and men; husband and wife) only where all-inclusive terms such as people, spouses or partners aren’t sufficient.

Example: The survey revealed a pay gap between women and men

  • When sex or gender is not set, avoid exclusionary defaults such as using the masculine pronoun as a generic pronoun. Do not write, e.g., “If an instructor needs a new computer, he should contact his dean.” Instead, adjust the sentence and eliminate the pronoun. Avoid using “s/he” or “he/she,” “him/her.”
  • Consider the use of plural nouns with plural pronouns.
  • Example: Contact the dean if you need a new computer or Instructors who need a new computer should contact the dean.

Many style guides accept the use of the plural pronouns “they” and “their” with antecedents such as “anyone,” “everyone,” “someone” to produce a gender-neutral statement.

  • Everyone should decide whether they want to come.
  • Anyone can request their grade.

Some individuals do not declare their pronouns. In this case, use their name in the place of pronouns.

For example:

  •  instead of “she/he/they,” use “Jane Doe,” and instead of “hers,” use “Jane Doe’s.”

5. Sexuality and Gender Identity

In all references be guided by the preference of those concerned.

“Gay” is often used to refer just to gay men but can also include others. The preferred usage is as an adjective, i.e., gay men, gay women, gay people.

Other preferred terms include: lesbian, bi or bisexual, transgender, transsexual, trans, trans man, trans woman, intersex, two spirit, queer, genderqueer, gender-questioning and bigender.

When referring to a significant other, use “partner” or “spouse” rather than “same-sex partners” or other gendered terms.

Transgender (preferred term is now Trans) is often abbreviated to “trans” or combined with other gender terms, e.g., trans man, trans woman. Avoid the term transsexual.

Avoid the term “sexual preference,” as preference suggests a choice, and most people do not see their sexuality as a choice. Many prefer to speak of sexual orientation or sexuality.

Humber College uses the acronym 2SLGBTQ+ which means Two-Spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (or questioning). The “+” refers to other sexual and gender identities.

Other popular acronyms include the letters “I,” for intersex, “A” for asexual or agender, and more.

Humber’s LGBTQ+ Resource Centre is in the process of updating its name to be more inclusive.

6. Race and Ethnicity

Avoid generalizations and stereotyping based on race or ethnicity. Be respectful of all cultural backgrounds and be inclusive in recognizing diversity at Humber College. Avoid identifying people by race, colour, or national origin, unless it is appropriate for context, and do not assume that a person’s appearance defines their nationality or cultural background.

Capitalize the proper names of nationalities, peoples, and races: Indigenous Peoples, Métis, Cree, Inuit, Arab, French-Canadian, Jew, Latin, Asian.

Avoid singling out specific cultures or drawing undue attention to ethnic or racial background. When references are relevant and necessary, find the appropriate, accepted terminology and use the language preferred by the individual or group concerned.

Black is acceptable in all references to people of African descent. In the United States, African-American is used; in Canada, Black-Canadian is most commonly used. African-Canadian is sometimes used. Note that Black should be capitalized.

Be aware that some references can, often unintentionally, have negative racial connotations. Avoid vocabulary that carries hierarchical valuation or portrays groups as inferior, criminal, or less valued than others.

  • The term “black” is often used in words/phrases with negative implications – for example, black sheep, blackmail, black market, black magic – while white is often associated with purity and innocence.
  • The term “minority” may imply inferior social position and is often dependent on geographic location. Avoid generalizations and assumptions. If the term is needed, “minority ethnic group” is preferred over “minority group.” Do not use the term “visible minority.”
  • Terms such as “visible minority” and “person of colour” are outdated and inaccurate. If relevant, use the following terms to describe persons or groups: “racialized person,” “member of a racialized group,” or “racialized group.”

7. General Notes and Additional Resources

Alt Text is an important part of accessible web design. It describes details of images that appear on webpages for visitors who are unable to see them and/or may be using assistive technology. Descriptions include the actions happening in the photos as well as people depicted. Alt Text should be concise and meaningful to the context of the subject.

When describing gender, race, ability, sexuality and age in Alt Text, it is important to keep it in context. In instances in which a person’s pronouns/gender identity are unknown, it is recommended not to highlight a person based on these identities. For example:

  • "A female doctor helping an elderly patient using iPad” would be better positioned as “A doctor helping a patient using iPad”

However, if race and pronouns of an individual are central to the story and are confirmed with the individual, they may be included in Alt Text as they demonstrate the context of the images.

*This is not an exhaustive list. For historical context and present-day usage of terms, people are encouraged to do their own research as part of reconciliation and ongoing equity, diversity and inclusion education.
Additional Resources

Disability Language Style Guide

Gender-inclusive writing – Guidelines for gender-inclusive writing in English

HROE - Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Definitions

Humber’s 2SLGBTQ+ Education Guide

National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation

Ontario Human Rights Commission: Grounds for Discrimination: definitions and scope of protection

Race and Ethnicity: Evolving Terminology

United Nations: Disability Inclusive Communications Guidelines