Inclusive Language Guide

GIRL Shakes Loose at Penumbra Theatre in St. Paul, Minnesota (photo by Allen Weeks)

Words carry meaning and power. The ways in which we refer to individuals and groups of people can be evidence of respect—or they can convey disregard or scorn. Historic and systemic injustice toward some groups has created bias and prejudice that seeps into everyday language. Because language use is deeply ingrained, mirroring patterns and cultural norms learned from infancy, we may not always be conscious of the harm our words can inflict, especially if we belong to a group holding power.

Acknowledging this bias can bring to light inequities in our actions and our language. Changing our words can help to change our and others’ attitudes and reinforce respectful, inclusive behaviors that value a variety of points of view. The words we choose can help us and those who read or hear them to create a culture of equity for all people.

As part of state government, state arts agencies can be standard bearers of inclusive language. As supporters of the arts and culture community, state arts agencies can help to ensure—in language as well as action—that all populations have access to the arts and to public resources allocated for the arts, as well as to the benefits of public investment in the arts.

This curated list of inclusive-language resources offers state arts agencies guidance on:

  • choosing language that includes rather than excludes;
  • choosing language that acknowledges, accepts and celebrates differences;
  • choosing language that is welcoming to everyone.

Using inclusive language reminds us that the feelings and experiences generated by the arts unite us all.

Guiding Principles for Using Inclusive Language
General Resources
Race and Ethnicity
Gender and Sexual Orientation
Socioeconomic Status
Framing for Change



Truett Felt, Shaun Taylor-Corbett, Roman Zaragoza, Lily Gladstone and ensemble in “Off the Rails” at Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Photo by Jenny Graham

  • Know which populations within your audience have fewer advantages, are marginalized and/or are objects of bias.
  • Be sure your messages do not exclude—or appear to exclude—any groups.
  • Use respectful language that acknowledges people’s humanity.
  • Try to use language preferred by the group (for example, people with disabilities; Deaf person).
  • There may not be universal consensus around terminology. (For instance, some Indigenous American groups use the term Native American while others prefer American Indian or First Nation.) Learn how distinct groups in your state prefer to self-identify.
  • Describe a person or group at the appropriate level of specificity. To avoid objectification, identify a group or an individual as a member of a group only when it is relevant to your message.
  • Use adjectival forms (e.g., older adults) or nouns with descriptive phrases (e.g., individuals living in poverty) rather than labels (the elderly, the poor).
  • Like our society, language is always evolving. Seek continual learning about the meaning of words and how groups self-identify.



Detail from I, you she or he, by Jaume Plensa

Conscious Style Guide
Conscious Style Guide
Articles and resources on ability, age, appearance, ethnicity and race, gender and sexuality, socioeconomic status, and more

The Diversity Style Guide
The Diversity Style Guide
More than 700 terms related to race, ability, age, sexuality and more

American Psychological Association
General Principles for Reducing Bias
Principles for writing about people without bias

American Chemical Society
ACS Inclusivity Style Guide
Guidelines around narratives, language and framing

Walden University Writing Center
Avoiding Bias
Areas for consideration include generalization, evidence, self-awareness, objectivity and sensitivity

Utah Division of Multicultural Affairs (PDF)
Communicating to Utah’s Culturally & Linguistically Diverse Communities
One state’s guide to engaging with its diverse populations, including establishing shared beliefs, getting started and questions for reflection

National Assembly of State Arts Agencies
Diversity, Equity and Inclusion



In its most recent Implicit Bias Review, Ohio State University’s Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity defines implicit bias this way:

The attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner. Activated involuntarily, without awareness or intentional control. Can be either positive or negative. Everyone is susceptible.

Because of the pervasiveness of implicit bias—particularly around race and ethnic identity—state arts agencies should be keenly aware of how their language regards, includes and characterizes people of differing backgrounds.

Members of Alma de Mexico (Soul of Mexico) perform a traditional dance at the Festival of Nations in St. Louis, Missouri.

Conscious Style Guide
Ethnicity, Race + Nationality
Articles and resources

American Psychological Association
APA Style: Racial and Ethnic Identity
Spelling, capitalization, hyphenation, terms for specific groups and examples of bias-free language

Racial Equity Tools
Racial Equity Tools Glossary
Terminology’s historical origins and systems

Native Governance Center
How to Talk about Native Nations: A Guide
Basic guidance on referring to Native nations and people

Native American Rights Fund
Frequently Asked Questions about Native Peoples
Explanations of terms describing Native American peoples, tribes and lands

Living Justice Press
Convention Style Sheet for Native Subject-Matters (bottom link on page)
Terms and concepts that counter marginalization of Native peoples (though note that using the suggested Native Country rather than Indian Country has state and federal policy implications: see the Native American Journalists Association’s Reporting and Indigenous Terminology guide)

Race Forward
Race Reporting Guide
Guidelines for media coverage of key issues with a racial lens; includes key terms/concepts

Mother Jones
Race, Ethnicity
Recommended words and definitions



Physical and mental abilities are not determinants of a person’s value. These resources illustrate that the way we speak about ability can foster understanding and inclusion.

State arts agencies reduce barriers to arts participation for people with disabilities.

Conscious Style Guide
Ability + Disability
Articles and resources

National Center on Disability and Journalism
Disability Language Style Guide
Principles and almost 200 words and terms commonly used when referring to disability

American Psychological Association
APA Style: Disability
Principles (person-first and identity-first language, negative/condescending terminology) and examples of bias-fee language

Center for Disability Rights
Disability Writing & Journalism Guidelines
Guidelines on disability culture, avoiding stereotypes, terms to use/avoid



Ageism—the promulgation of a stereotype on the basis of age—is widespread, whether it’s sidelong glances at the expense of “millennials” or jokes about having “old-timer’s disease.” We acknowledge the dignity of people at all stages of life when we choose respectful language.

Parsley Pie Art Club for Children

Conscious Style Guide
Articles and resources

Silver Century Foundation
How to Challenge Ageist Language
Why some terms are considered ageist

Conscious Style Guide
Young People and Ageist Language
Stereotyped language referring to younger people, and ways to counter it

The Atlantic
When Does Someone Become “Old”?
Terms to use and avoid when referring to older adults

Geriatric Physical Therapy
Use of the Term “Elderly”
Why this term is considered ageist



When our language is accepting of a variety of forms of sexual expression and gender identity, we let people know all are welcome and we benefit from their perspectives.

Photo by Zackary Drucker as part of Broadly’s Gender Spectrum Collection. Credit: The Gender Spectrum Collection

Conscious Style Guide
Gender, Sex + Sexuality
Articles and resources

American Psychological Association
APA Style: Gender
Gender vs. sex, gender identity, noun and pronoun usage, and more

APA Style: Sexual Orientation
Descriptive terms, pejorative terms

American Philosophical Association
Guidelines for Non-Sexist Use of Language
Use of man and he, sexual stereotyping, guidelines and examples

7 Ways to Make Your Language More Transgender and Nonbinary Inclusive
Simple suggestions for more inclusive references to gender

Media Reference Guide
Glossary of terms, special topics

Movement Advancement Project
An Ally’s Guide to Terminology
Essential vocabulary to use and avoid, with examples

Mother Jones
Gender, Sexuality
Recommended words and definitions



State arts agencies serve constituents at all levels of education, income and class. It is important that our language make every resident feel included.

All communities deserve access to the economic, educational and civic benefits of the arts.

Conscious Style Guide
Socioeconomic Status
Articles and resources

American Psychological Association
APA Style: Socioeconomic Status
Pejorative terms, examples of bias-free language

Conscious Style Guide
The False Divide Between “Well Educated” and “Less Educated”
Vague terms that stem from assumptions and bias

Rethinking the Language around Homelessness
How to put the person first, rather than the condition



This Inclusive Language Guide focuses on terminology that avoids bias and conveys respect. But language use occurs within larger societal frames that shape how issues are understood and embraced. For ideas on how to craft messages and shape communications that advance your agency’s equity objectives, draw ideas from these resources.

Donta McGilvery leads the African American Theatre class he created at Arizona State University. Photo by Abisai Alvarez, The State Press

The Opportunity Agenda
Ten Lessons for Talking about Race, Racism and Racial Justice

Grantmakers in Aging
ReFraming Aging

Movement Advancement Project
The Art and Science of Framing an Issue

Center for Social Inclusion
Talking about Race Toolkit

Reclaiming Native Truth
Changing the Narrative about Native Americans

Welcoming America
America Needs All of Us: A Toolkit for Talking about Bias, Race, and Change

Racial Equity Tools
Framing and Messaging

Frameworks Institute
Building a New Narrative on Human Services: A Communications Toolkit


For questions about NASAA’s Inclusive Language Guide, contact NASAA Communications Manager Sue Struve.