AccessibilityInclusive language

As an organisation and in communications with our users, we should write in a way which is clear, compassionate and respectful.

Helping everyone

When we build government services, we must ensure they’re accessible and inclusive to everyone who needs to use them.

Inclusive language builds trust and allows us to communicate effectively with our users.

This guidance is not comprehensive, but aims to provide principles and specific suggestions for writing and talking about diverse groups of people.

Writing inclusive content

Age

Do:

  • only ask for a person’s age if it is needed - for example, if a person must be over 18 to use a service
  • only refer to someone’s age if it’s relevant to what you’re writing about

Do not:

  • use age-related descriptors like ‘young’ or ‘old’ - use specific age ranges, such as ‘18-24’ or ‘over 65’

Disability

As well as following our accessible design principles, you should consider how your language is inclusive to people who face different barriers to accessing services.

Do:

  • clearly signpost users to alternative methods of accessing the service and get support if needed
  • recognise the variety of barriers in society that can make life harder for people
  • use positive and person-centred language, when talking about people with disabilities - such as, people with health conditions or impairments

Do not:

  • use language that implies conditions or disability being a barrier - instead focus on removing barriers that they might face in society

Sex, gender and sexuality

Do:

  • only refer to a person’s sex or gender if relevant and there’s a reason why you’re collecting this data
  • allow for flexibility around this information, such as asking for both a person’s sex and their gender, to ensure that the data captured accurately represents the individual and their needs
  • allow people to self-describe - use language that reflects how a person refers to themselves

Sex

Do:

  • ask for, or refer to, a person’s sex only when it’s relevant for biological data, not when concerning how a person identifies
  • refer to the sex someone was registered with at birth
  • provide options other than male and female where possible
  • allow people to disclose whether their sex registered at birth is different from their sex at present if you need to understand a persons’ current needs
The UK currently does not use an X marker for sex on identity documents, meaning that identity documents cannot have a sex other than male or female. Current policy states that for Biometric Residence Permit (BRPs) or identity documents, caseworkers will need to contact individuals to ask for a preference for their identity documentation. If relevant to your service, you should inform users of this when providing an ‘other’ option for questions about their sex.

Gender

Do:

  • refer to gender when relevant to how a person identifies, rather than when referring to biological characteristics - for example, if you need this data to understand the needs of users for policing, housing or asylum accommodation purposes
  • use gender neutral pronouns - for example, ‘Alex Brown has settled status, they have the right to live and work in the UK’

Do not:

  • use language that reinforces harmful stereotypes and assumptions

Sexuality

Do:

  • provide a reason for asking a person’s sexuality, if you need to ask for it
  • always use gender neutral terms when referring to people and their relationships

Do not:

  • give ‘same-sex’ relationships as a different radio option from ‘spouse, partner or cohabitant’ in questions
  • use language that makes assumptions about a person’s sexuality

Race ethnicity and religion

Do:

  • only refer to people's race ethnicity or religion if it's relevant to the content
  • ask how people identify themselves, and be aware of complexities within racial, ethnic, and religious identities
  • recognise the negative impacts of using broad terminology to homogenise diverse communities

Race and ethnicity

Do:

  • sense-check the language used with ethnic and racial diversity in mind
  • use upper case when referring to racial and ethnic groups

Do not:

  • group diverse geographical regions together - spell out specific nationalities, or racial and ethnic groups when relevant
  • use acronyms like BAME or BME - they do not refer to a singular homogeneous ethnic group
  • use language that can be linked to harmful stereotypes and assumptions
  • use terms that imply inferiority or superiority - for example ‘the minority’, ‘the majority’

Religion

Do:

  • always consider the various religious practices and beliefs that people have - and recognise the diverse needs of people from different faiths within your writing

Do not:

  • use language that may inherently exclude those of different faiths - for example, referring to certain religious celebrations but not others

Get in touch

If you’ve got a question or suggestion share it on the Home Office DDaT Slack channel #inclusion.