Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Editorial Resource

August 2023

Language is a powerful tool in advancing equity, diversity and inclusion. As communicators and employees at a post-secondary institution, we have a heightened responsibility to reflect the rich diversity of U of A communities and to model respectful, inclusive and accurate language that is at the forefront of understanding and current thinking.

The University of Alberta has committed to cultivating an equitable, diverse, accessible and inclusive environment for all who work, learn and live within our community. These commitments are laid out in the strategic plans that guide the U of A.

Advancing equity, diversity and inclusion requires ongoing conversations. It requires a commitment to active learning and listening. It requires constant vigilance against assumptions and biases.

This portion of the U of A Editorial Style Guide delves more deeply into topics related to equity, diversity and inclusion and provides links to other resources for further reading. It incorporates, with permission, guidelines from The Canadian Press policies on sensitive subjects as well as important input from the U of A community and other sources.

Note that there is room for flexibility in the use of U of A editorial guidelines. The goal is to strive for respectful, accurate and consistent language whenever possible while also respecting local and individual preferences.

While this is an editorial resource intended mainly for communicators, it is open to all employees as a learning resource and spark for discussion. 

These guidelines will continue to evolve with the help of U of A communities as we advance our learning and understanding. We welcome your suggestions and questions.

Quick tip: To search for a word or phrase in this document, press Ctrl + F (on a PC) or Command + F (on a Mac) to open a search box in the top right corner of your screen.

Back to top ↑

At a Glance

(incorporates, with permission, Canadian Press guidelines on sensitive subjects and other sources listed under other resource)

  • Be careful: language is powerful. The words we use can and do perpetuate trauma, stigma and discrimination. Language can also help repair historical and contemporary oppressions and injustices, including those in academia.
  • Always take your lead from the individual. Ask how they want to be described, including pronouns, Indigenous identity, raced identity and any identifiers that may be important to them. 
  • Only when relevant to a story should you include references to age, colour, nationality, personal appearance, disability, background, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, socioeconomic status and other descriptors. 
  • Make it a habit to inquire about a person’s pronouns and how they would like to be referred to at the beginning of an interview, and introduce your pronouns if you are comfortable. Consider adding your pronouns to your email signature, meeting ID and in conversation to help create more inclusive spaces for people of all gender identities.
  • Make it a habit to begin with an access check: ask how and where a source would like to communicate or meet for an interview, what might make their participation possible or more meaningful and what other factors would make the meeting more accessible and comfortable. Don’t presume an individual’s accessibility needs are the same as yours and don’t presume that doing it once is enough; check in.
  • Person-first language is generally preferred in U of A style but ask the individual — preferences differ and some people use identity-first language. Person-first example: “People who are incarcerated in federal prisons” rather than “prisoners in federal institutions.” Or “She is living with a substance use disorder” rather than “she is an addict.” Identity-first example: “I am autistic” rather than “I live with autism.”
  • While detail is central to good storytelling, be deliberate. Bias is common, subtle and woven into language; it can be difficult to spot. Ask yourself: would you use the same detail or descriptor if the person about whom you are writing/speaking were a woman, man or non-binary person, a white, Indigenous or Black person, or a teenager, senior, grandfather or grandmother?
  • Beware of “othering” through word choice or descriptions. Example: not “Iranian Canadian community is in mourning after plane crash” but “Canadians with loved ones in Iran grieve crash victims.” (See more under Race, Racism and Ethnicity)
  • Be aware that medical terms are not always appropriate when speaking or writing about a person. Words like “disorder” might be accurate in a medical context but demeaning or traumatizing for a person. (See Mental Illness, for example) 
  • Be mindful of invisible differences such as trauma, poverty, mental illness or physical or health limitations. Don’t presume your experience is everyone’s experience; be careful not to overgeneralize. Examples of generalizations: As everyone knows …, We all remember what it was like to …
  • There is a growing understanding in some communities that what is considered “normal,” “healthy” or “reasonable” is not inherent — that it is often defined by the dominant culture or society. Avoid deficit language. One person’s idea of a deficit or hardship is not another’s. Be guided by what the person or community sees as important. Example: the Deaf community has its own rich culture with a unique language, values and social structures. (See deaf/Deaf under Terms A-Z
  • Be careful to avoid language that suggests individual weakness or fault. An equity, diversity and inclusion lens focuses on the barriers — social, economic, racial, physical and more — to full and meaningful engagement in society. (See equity-denied under General EDI Terms)
  • Derogatory terms and slurs should never be used, even in a direct quotation or contextual information. In such cases, talk to a supervisor or contact the Office of the Vice-Provost (Equity, Diversity and Inclusion) for advice.
  • When an interview subject prefers a term that differs from U of A style guidelines, be flexible. If you think it’s sensitive or controversial, check with an editor. 
  • When in doubt, ask your source. Most people appreciate the effort to be accurate. 
  • In content dealing with sensitive topics related to equity, diversity and inclusion, consider consulting an editor, the U of A style team or the Office of the Vice-Provost (Equity, Diversity and Inclusion) for a “sensitivity check” to avoid unintentional errors of unconscious bias, presumption and stereotypes.

Back to top ↑

Additional U of A Editorial Guides

In addition to the information listed on this page, consult the two resources below for further guidance.

Editorial Style Guide

General guidelines on University of Alberta style for spelling, grammar, capitalization, punctuation and correct usage

Indigenous Peoples Editorial Resource

Further your knowledge related to Indigenous Peoples and topics in an editorial context

Back to top ↑

Learn more: U of A and other resources

(Also see resources listed under each topic)

Back to top ↑

General EDI Terms

(Sources: U of A Strategic Plan for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion; Foundations of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion; Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion, Oxfam Inclusive Language Guide)

  • colonialism (also see settler colonialism) – the domination or exploitation of one country or people by another to gain political control, occupy the land with settlers and exploit it economically. The legacy of colonization on cultures, languages, religions,economies and bodies continues today, along with its negative impacts.
  • cultural appropriation – when members of a group adopt cultural elements of another group in an exploitative, disrespectful or stereotypical way. Be aware that language can also be appropriated by using terms that have specific and sometimes sacred cultural meaning. If you’re not sure whether it’s appropriate to use a word or wear an item, ask someone from that culture, suggests Chelsea Vowel, author of Indigenous Writes: A Guide to First Nations, Métis and Inuit Issues in Canada. (Note that co-option is a related concept.)
  • decolonization – an active dismantling of the ideologies, structures and mindsets by which a nation has asserted its domination over another nation — its land, resources, people, relationships, language and culture — and that perpetuate oppression and power imbalances. Valuing and revitalizing a colonized nation’s Indigenous Peoples and cultures.
  • discrimination – the unjust or prejudicial treatment, whether intentional or not, of different categories of people based on a characteristic or perceived characteristic. (See “protected grounds” and “prohibited grounds”)
  • diversity – in an equity, diversity and inclusion context, it refers to including or involving people from a range of different social and ethnic/racial backgrounds and of different genders, sexual orientations, religions, nationalities, political leanings, socio-economic statuses, lived experiences, educational backgrounds and physical and mental abilities. “Within universities, diversity can include difference or variety in education, perspectives, opinions, worldviews, lived experiences, disciplines and faculties.” (U of A Foundations of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion)
  • equity-denied – this is the preferred U of A term, though there may be contexts or circumstances in which it’s appropriate to use equity-deserving, equity-seeking or marginalized. Equity-denied “highlights the systemic nature of equity work by not only emphasizing the need for structural changes, but it also acknowledges the many historical exclusions or denials that marginalized groups have faced, and continue to face.” (U of A Foundations of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion)
  • inclusion – inclusion means that society values and cultivates full and meaningful engagement of historically and structurally excluded individuals and groups. At the U of A, it refers to enabling all individuals on our campuses to fully enjoy the opportunities the university has to offer and to have all equity-seeking groups meaningfully represented in all aspects of university life and decision-making roles. 
  • indigenization – lowercase; to incorporate Indigenous worldviews, knowledge and perspectives into educational, political and social structures.
  • intergenerational trauma – trauma experienced and inherited through generations. Research has found that the effects of trauma can be passed down genetically through changes in DNA expression, socially through oppressive and/or traumatic events affecting social interactions, or structurally through continued marginalization. Intergenerational trauma has been found to affect the families and descendants of holocaust survivors, residential school survivors, refugees, slaves and other groups. (Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion)
  • intersectionality – a theoretical framework that recognizes the overlap of various constructed categories, such as race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, class, language, etc., in a way that can exponentially multiply the effects of oppression and underrepresentation on an individual or group. (See Institute for Intersectionality Studies resources under Learn more: U of A and other resources)
  • privilege – access, benefits and opportunities for members of a social group who have a high level of power and a low level of barriers because structures and institutions have been and continue to be designed by and for the benefit of a particular group.
  • “prohibited grounds” under the Canadian Human Rights Act – the 13 prohibited grounds are race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, marital status, family status, genetic characteristics, disability and conviction for an offence for which a pardon has been granted.
  • “protected grounds” under the Alberta Human Rights Act are race, religious beliefs, colour, gender, gender identity, gender expression, physical disability, mental disability, age, ancestry, place of origin, marital status, source of income, family status, sexual orientation.
  • settler colonialism (also see colonialism) – a network of laws, policies, structures and practices that perpetuates the erasure and elimination of Indigenous Peoples as a precondition for the expropriation of land and the permanent occupation of European settlers.
  • vulnerable – avoid this word, which suggests weakness on the part of individuals rather than a focus on the barriers they face. Example: “people who face socioeconomic barriers” rather than “vulnerable populations.”

Back to top ↑

Guidelines by Topic

(in alphabetical order)

Note: People are not categories. While this guide is organized into topics and headings, it’s important to state what might seem obvious: that such boundaries and strict definitions don’t reflect reality. For this reason, U of A editorial guidelines emphasize that you ask the individual how they want to be identified or described and avoid broad generalizations.


At a glance

  • Ageism is prejudice or discrimination based on age. It can affect people of any age. 
  • Include a person’s age only when it’s relevant: for example, in an obituary or when someone’s age is unexpected or interesting in the circumstances.
  • Ideally, put the age between commas after the name. Example: Jane Doe, 30, rather than 30-year-old Jane Doe.
  • Avoid generic labels such as millennial, middle-aged, senior, retiree, geriatric. These terms refer to populations and generations, not individuals.
  • Avoid perpetuating stereotypes of particular age groups, even subtly, such as “young people are irresponsible” or “seniors are out of touch.” 


Older adults
  • For people 65 and older, “older adult” is acceptable. Avoid “senior” or “retiree.” 
  • People live in long-term care homes, not facilities or institutions. 
  • Residents, not patients. 
  • Avoid defining older adults by their health: those with cognitive disorders such as Alzheimer’s are living with dementia, not “suffering” from it or “senile.”
  • Avoid speaking about aging as an obstacle to overcome. Instead, convey aging as a normal human experience.
  • Avoid terms that infantilize older people, such as “sweet,” “spry,” “little,” etc.
Children and young people
  • infant – a child who is no more than a few months old
  • baby – a child who is not yet walking 
  • toddler – a child around the age of two
  • preschooler – ages three to five 
  • youth – up to the age of 18, generally used in the plural. Avoid except when referring to research; “young people” is more conversational. For an individual, use the person’s age where relevant.
  • young adult – over 18
  • baby boomer – in North America, the generation of people born from roughly 1946 to 1964
  • Generation X, Gen X – the generation of people born in the 1960s and 1970s
  • Generation Y, Gen Y – the generation born from roughly 1980 to the mid-1990s (see millennial)
  • Generation Z, Gen Z – generation of people born in the late 1990s and early 2000s
  • millennial – people born in the 1980s or 1990s

Learn More

Back to top ↑


At a glance

  • Don’t mention a person’s disability, illness or health condition unless it’s relevant to the article. 
  • A disability can be physical, sensory, psychological, neurological, cognitive, social or related to chronic health. (Center for Disability Rights)
  • Disabilities are often not visible to the outsider observer. Don’t presume someone’s abilities are the same as yours. 
  • There is a growing understanding that what is considered “normal,” “healthy” or “reasonable” is not inherent — that it is often defined by the dominant culture or society. As a result, the language is often ableist. (Also see Neurodiversity below)
  • Focus on the individual, not their disability, illness or health condition. “They are people first; their disability is only one part of their humanity and most would say it is the least important part.” (The Canadian Press)
  • If a person’s disability is part of the story, ask how they would like it to be mentioned or described. If a person is not available or is unable to communicate through any communication option, and only if absolutely necessary, you can ask a trusted family member, advocate or relevant organization. Make sure it is a reputable group that actually represents people with disabilities, ideally one that is led by people with similarly relevant disabilities. (Medical professionals should not be asked about any individual’s disability.)
  • Person-first language is generally preferred in U of A stories, but be sure to ask the individual. Some people prefer identity-first language. A person’s stated identity should always be used if known. Person-first examples: he has diabetes, a person with autism, they live with Type 2 diabetes. Identity-first example: I am autistic. 
  • Use “non-disabled” and “neurotypical” rather than “normal,” “healthy” or “able bodied,” which imply that people with disabilities are abnormal, unhealthy or not able to do things. (Oxfam Inclusive Language Guide)
  • Be specific about a disability, condition or illness and its effects rather than using generic terms that might be misunderstood. Communicators can help counter stereotypes and misconceptions by providing clear explanations based on reputable sources. Don’t presume the reader knows what a term means. 
  • Avoid subjective or deficit language such as “afflicted with,” “suffers from” or “victim.” Similarly, avoid words like “courageous” or “heroic.” Pity and unjustified admiration or patronization is inappropriate. “Every human faces challenges in life, and simply having a disability and living one’s life does not make a person needy or inspirational.” (The Active Living Alliance for Canadians Living with a Disability) 
  • Be specific and take care not to make assumptions. People who use wheelchairs are not “confined” to them. People may be deaf, slightly deaf or hard of hearing (see Deaf/deaf under Terms). They may be blind or visually impaired. (The Canadian Press) 
  • Avoid suggesting weakness or helplessness. Depending on the level of disability, Many people are capable, strong and independant. In fact, as advocates point out, it is the barriers in their surroundings and in society that contribute to their limitations. 
  • Be careful using words like “disorder,” “abnormality” and “special” to describe the nature of a disability. Some of these are used in a medical sense but can be demeaning to an individual. Ask your source for their preference or seek advice from an expert. The U of A Council on Systemic Racism uses the term “impairment.” The word “condition” can also be a good substitute that avoids judgment. “Disorder” is common in medical references. The same is true for “special” when used in “special education,” so there are times when it’s appropriate to use them. 
  • There are some terms used in the scientific community that are not acceptable in casual use. Check with your source or a subject expert. 
  • Whenever possible, seek out a disabled person to speak about disability. Take care not to suggest that a doctor, researcher or family member is an authentic voice; they can only understand disability through an external lens. (Center for Disability Rights) 
  • Take care to avoid phrases and clichés in writing or speech that refer to disabilities, especially when writing about disability! Find alternatives to phrases such as “fall on deaf ears,” “turn a blind eye,” “stand up and fight,” “it was a crazy day.”

Terms A-Z

ableism – a set of beliefs or practices, often unconscious, that devalue and discriminate against people with physical, intellectual, or psychiatric disabilities. It rests on the assumption that disabled people are less valuable or need to be “fixed” in one form or the other. (Center for Disability Rights)

addiction – see substance use disorder under Mental Disorders heading

asylum – an archaic term. Use psychiatric hospital, mental health institute or the formal name of the facility.

autism – autism is part of a group of conditions known as autism spectrum disorder, a lifelong neurodevelopmental condition that affects sensory processing, communication and behaviour (see also Neurodiversity). Note that some people with autism prefer identity-first language. For example, rather than person-first language (“she lives with autism” or “he has autism”) some individuals prefer “I am autistic.” Take care with the terms “high-functioning” and “low-functioning,” which are starting to be seen as misleading and damaging. Rather, be specific about a person’s abilities. For example, “he is able to communicate verbally and can do most things with little to no support.”

blind, low vision – be specific. Not all people with low vision are blind and not all people who are legally blind have no vision.

deaf/Deaf – the Canadian Association of the Deaf draws a sharp distinction between deafness as a medical condition and Deaf culture, a community with its own unique language, values and social structures. The latter is capitalized. (The Canadian Press)

DSM – the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is an international reference book on mental health and brain-related conditions and disorders. DSM-5 fact sheets

hard of hearing or has a hearing impairment

long COVID – also sometimes called “long haul” and people with it, “long haulers.” 

patient – a patient is someone who is actively under a doctor’s care or in hospital, which is not true of many people with disabilities.

social model versus medical model of disability – The social model focuses on the idea that the disability itself is not the primary issue that creates harm or disadvantage for people who are disabled, but rather that the harm results from the way they are treated and the way society has been constructed with barriers that prevent their inclusion and participation (ableism). The medical model treats the disability itself as the problem that causes harm and refers to disabled people only in a medicalized context. This can be very harmful as it implies that disabled people will inevitably live low-quality lives and cannot be a fully participating member of society so long as they are not cured/fixed. (Center for Disability Rights)

neurodevelopmental conditions or developmental disorders of the brain – medical terms that include autism, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Down syndrome, learning disabilities, intellectual disability, conduct disorders, cerebral palsy and impairments in vision and hearing.

special needs – avoid; be specific about the mobility aid or accommodation a person uses. Example: Sue uses a walking frame when she goes out.

wheelchair accessible rather than handicapped accessible

Back to top ↑

Gender Identity, Sexual Orientation and Gender Equality

At a glance

  • 2SLGBTQ+ is the preferred acronym at the U of A for two-spirit, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning and additional gender identities. 
  • Understand the differences between gender identity, gender expression, sex and sexual orientation, transsexual and transgender (see Terms below.) If in doubt, ask.
  • Language around gender identity and sexual orientation is changing rapidly and differs among individuals and groups. Some terms are acceptable to some but could offend others. Be guided by the person or group you’re writing about.
  • Be flexible if a person identifies with a descriptor that differs from U of A style. A person’s stated identity should always be used if known.


Gender Identity and Expression
  • 2SLGBTQ+ is the preferred acronym at the U of A for two-spirit, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning and additional gender identities.
  • cisgender (not cisgendered) – an adjective (not a verb or noun) that refers to an individual whose gender identity aligns with the sex they were assigned at birth.
  • gender expression – how an individual chooses to outwardly live their gender identity. It does not always align with gender identity nor with society’s biases and stereotypes of gender; avoid making assumptions.
  • gender identity – an individual’s own sense of their gender. Unlike gender expression, gender identity is not visible to others. Gender identities might include man, woman, non-binary, gender non-conforming, genderqueer, intersex, asexual, cisgender and more. Be guided by the source and topic you are writing about.
  • non-binary – a range of gender identities that are not exclusively masculine or exclusively feminine, i.e., identities that are outside the gender binary.
  • pronouns – make it a habit to ask people which pronouns they use.
    • they/them – can be used by an individual who does not identify as she/her or he/him or when referring to someone generically when gender is unknown. (The Canadian Press, Chicago Manual of Style). 
    • use the person’s surname to help foster clarity where a singular “they” could be confusing. (The Canadian Press, Chicago Manual of Style)
  • sex, such as “male” or “female” – something infants are assigned at birth based on the appearance of their external anatomy. 
    • AFAB/AMAB – acronyms for assigned female or assigned male at birth
  • transgender (not transgendered) – an adjective that refers to some individuals whose gender identity differs from the sex they were assigned at birth. Trangender may sometimes be shortened to “trans” but be guided by the person you are writing about, and consider the tone and context.
    • Note that while some people who identify as transgender might be undergoing hormone therapy or surgery as part of a transition, not all will choose to, be able to or have the resources to, nor should their identity as a transgender person be defined in that way. Transitions can also involve a change to legal names, new clothes and voice training. 
    • Transgender people may use “transgender woman” or “transgender man” to describe themselves, or may prefer to simply be called a woman or man without any modifier. Some use trans woman or trans man (note: two words). Use the term the person uses to describe themself.
    • Be aware that the name a person was given at birth or their legal name (i.e., what is in their passport) may not align with their affirmed name (the name they go by) and avoid calling someone by a name different than their affirmed name. This is called babynaming or deadnaming when associated with trans and non-binary people.
  • transsexual – a clinical definition for someone who identifies as a member of the sex category opposite to that assigned at birth. It is not a snyonym for the broader term “transgender” (see above). When in doubt, ask.
  • two-spirit (not two-spirited) – often used to represent various gender identities and sexual orientations within Indigenous communities. It is a broad term with a number of definitions. Seek clarity from the person you’re writing about before using it, and avoid its various abbreviations in order to prevent confusion.
Sexual Orientation
  • sexual orientation – describes a person’s physical, romantic and/or emotional attraction to another person. Sexual orientation is not the same as gender identity (see above). 
    • A person’s sexual orientation should never be mentioned unless relevant to the story or the individual would like it mentioned.
    • Use sexual orientation, not sexual preference. Sexuality is not a choice. 
  • gay and lesbian – the preferred terms to describe people whose physical, romantic and/or emotional attraction is to another person of the same sex. 
    • Homosexual is considered offensive by some; avoid except in clinical contexts and quotations. Don’t use “admitted homosexual” or similar, which suggests criminality and deceit.
    • Only use openly gay or openly lesbian if it is necessary for clarity.
    • Don’t use gay as a noun. 
  • queer – an umbrella term for people who are not heterosexual and/or cisgender but it remains offensive to some. Use it only if it’s the way an individual self-identifies.
  • asexual – an umbrella term used to describe a person of any gender or sexual orientation who does not experience sexual attraction or who prioritizes ways of relating, partnering or coupling beyond sexual intercourse. “Ace” is an abbreviation that some people use to describe themselves. (GLAAD)
  • partner or spouse – the preferred gender-neutral terms, though boyfriend, girlfriend, husband and wife are acceptable. Follow the individual’s preference.
Gender-Inclusive Language

“Using gender-inclusive language means speaking and writing in a way that does not discriminate against a particular sex, social gender or gender identity and does not perpetuate gender stereotypes. Given the key role of language in shaping cultural and social attitudes, using gender-inclusive language is a powerful way to promote gender equality and eradicate gender bias.” (United Nations Gender-Inclusive Language)

  • Be consistent in the way you refer to individuals in terms of their gender. If one is addressed with full name, last name, title or honorific, others should be as well, not only within an article but across all content.
  • Avoid gendered language. Example: chair rather than chairman or chairwoman. 
  • Be aware of gender usage that’s built into language. Example: use humankind, humanity, humans rather than mankind. The words staffing or employees are more inclusive than manpower.
  • Avoid gendered pronouns in generic examples:
    • A staff member in Antarctica earns less than one in New York.
    • A staff member in Antarctica earns less than they would in New York.
    •  The sentence “if a complainant is not satisfied with the board’s decision, he can ask for a rehearing” could be written instead “a complainant who is not satisfied with the board’s decision can ask for a rehearing.”

Learn more

Back to top ↑

Mental Health, Mental Illness and Neurological Differences

At a glance

  • Language can play an important role in reducing the stigma experienced by people living with mental illness, mental distress and neurological differences. But while attitudes are changing, misconceptions and stigma continue to create significant barriers to treatment, support and full participation in society. 
  • There is a growing understanding that what is considered “normal” or “healthy” is not inherent — that it is often defined by the dominant culture or society. (Also see Neurodiversity)
  • Be careful about applying medicalized terms to human beings. While they might be accurate in a medical sense, they can be demeaning to an individual. Ask your source for their preference or seek advice from an expert. 
  • As attitudes change, language that is accurate and respectful is also changing. As always, be guided by your source and the communities involved (see Learn more: resources and sources below).
  • Be aware of the differences between mental health, mental distress, mental illness and other conditions of the brain. 
    • mental health – cognitive, behavioural and emotional well-being.
    • mental or psychological distress – symptoms such as anxiety and depression that are associated with normal fluctuations of mood and are temporary in most people. In some cases, psychological distress may indicate the beginning of a mental illness. 
    • mental illness – psychiatric conditions as defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. (often referred to as the DSM)
    • developmental brain conditions or neurodevelopmental conditions – multifaceted conditions characterized by impairments in cognition, communication, behavior and/or motor skills resulting from abnormal brain development
    • degenerative brain disease (or neurodegenerative disease) – a type of disease in which cells of the central nervous system stop working or die
    • brain injury – trauma, stroke

Mental Illness

  • Only mention a person’s mental illness if it is necessary to the story and only with that person’s permission. 
  • Don’t assume that mental illness is permanent or that people experience mental illness in the same ways. There are many mental illnesses and within each diagnosis there is a broad range from mild to severe.
  • Use person-first language and strive to be specific about a diagnosis. Examples: a person is not anorexic or depressed, they have been diagnosed with anorexia or depression. If it’s not possible to be specific, say they are experiencing a mental illness not that they are mentally ill. However, as always, check with the individual and use their preferred way of self-identifying.
  • Avoid labelling a person or a group by their mental illness. Avoid suggestions of suffering, struggling or affliction. 
  • Avoid casual use of clinical terms such as depressed, obsessive-compulsive or schizophrenic. These are clinical diagnoses with life-altering effects for the individual and their families. 
  • Strike pejorative or derogatory words — crazy, insane — from your vocabulary, and consider them carefully when contained in a quote. And beware the temptation to use clinical language flippantly or outside a mental-health context (for example, the pacing of the film is schizophrenic, an obsessive-compulsive need for attention). (The Canadian Press)


addict/addiction – substance use disorder is the preferred term (see below). 

asylum – an archaic term. Use psychiatric hospital, mental health institute or the formal name of the facility.

brain injury – examples include trauma and stroke

DSM – The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is an international reference book on mental health and brain-related conditions and disorders. DSM-5 fact sheets

neurodevelopmental conditions or developmental disorders of the brain – a medical term that includes autism, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Down syndrome, learning disabilities, intellectual disability, conduct disorders, cerebral palsy and impairments in vision and hearing.

sanism – a presumption that those who experience any form of psychiatric disability or mental health condition are abnormal, unhealthy or inferior.

substance use disorder – results from physical changes in the brain and is considered a mental disorder. It may coexist with other mental disorders. Always use person-first language to avoid dehumanizing a person. Example: She is living with a substance use disorder.


Neurodiversity is the idea that different brains function differently and that these variations add value to society and the workplace. 

“Neurodiversity refers to the idea that neurological differences, such as those seen in autism or ADHD, reflect normal variations in brain development. Neurodiversity is often contrasted with the “medical model,” which views conditions like autism or ADHD as disorders to prevent, treat or cure. There has been a push to move away from this idea of pathology and more toward a more nuanced perspective with variations of what is ‘normal.’ ” (Psychology Today)

This shift is reflected in efforts by some individuals and organizations to lay claim to that identity. Be aware of this as it differs from the general U of A style guideline of person-first language. Example: “I am autistic” may be preferred rather than “He lives with autism” (person-first).

Back to top ↑

Physical Appearance

At a glance

  • Physical appearance can be a sensitive or emotional topic for people, no matter their body type. Be sensitive to that. 
  • Only mention a person’s body type, height, weight and other physical descriptors when relevant to the story and with their awareness. 
  • Be alert to the danger of inserting a personal or societal value judgment related to someone’s appearance.
  • Avoid any suggestion of blame when writing about body weight. There are many factors that contribute to being underweight, overweight or obese. 
  • If weight is pertinent — in a research story, for example — use person-first language. Example: “a person with obesity” not “an obese person.”
  • If a person identifies as fat and it is relevant to the story, that detail can be included in an appropriate and sensitive way with the individual’s permission.
  • Avoid language that suggests weight is a battle to overcome.


  • body mass index, or BMI – has been used to define body weight but is becoming an increasingly discredited measure. Use with caution and only if an expert source uses it. 
  • fat acceptance, fat positivity – a movement that argues that traditional medical definitions stigmatize fat people. “Fat communities, such as the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA), have contested society’s stubborn generalizations that associate fatness with disease and poor health outcomes, and push back against the assumption that fat people have little regard for themselves or their own well-being.” ( “Fat acceptance as social justice,” Canadian Medical Association Journal)
  • “Overweight” and “obese” – specific medical terms used to define fat accumulation that may impair health. Note: The word “obese” is considered a slur in fat studies and fat communities. It should be used only when required.

Back to top ↑

Race, Racism and Ethnicity

Race is a scientifically invalid construct — it is the product of racism — yet it’s important to address in order to acknowledge and counteract racism and its impact on individuals and societies, historically and today.

In general, be cautious and deliberate when referring to race, ethnicity and other terms of identity. Racism is pervasive, sometimes subtle and deeply embedded; we are all subject to unconscious biases. It takes conscious effort, humility and a dedication to unlearning to avoid perpetuating stereotypes and misconceptions through the language we use. 

At a glance

  • A person’s race, colour, national origin or immigration status should be invisible in your writing unless it’s pertinent to the story or when a person specifically requests it. In the latter case, consider including why.
  • Be mindful and deliberate when referring to race, ethnicity and similar terms of identity. Racism is pervasive, deeply embedded and sometimes subtle; we are all subject to unconscious biases. It takes conscious effort to avoid perpetuating stereotypes and misconceptions through the language we use. 
  • The Canadian Press cautions: “Think long and hard whenever writing about race and ethnicity in the collective sense — doing so risks reducing a large and heterogeneous group of individuals into a uniform and indistinct mass, which they are not.”
  • Similarly, avoid overgeneralizations that lump everyone together based on race or ethnicity. Example: “some Canadians of Asian descent” or “many Asian Canadians” rather than “the Asian community in Canada.”
  • Beware of “othering,” implying that a person or group is different or doesn’t belong.

    Not : Iranian Canadian community in mourning after plane crash
    But : Canadians with loved ones in Iran grieve crash victims

  • Capitalize the proper names of nationalities, peoples, races, tribes and the like: Indigenous Peoples, Arab, Arabic, African, African American, Asian, Black, Caucasian, Chipewyan, Chinese, English Canadian, Hispanic, Indian, Inuk, Inuit, Jew, Jewish, Latin, Nordic, Pygmy, Roma.
  • Never assume your readers share your background. For example, what is obvious to a university-educated Christian whose parents were born in Toronto might need explanation for persons who have a different faith, birthplace, upbringing or socio-economic background.
  • Derogatory terms and slurs should never be used, even in a direct quotation or contextual information. In such cases, talk to a supervisor or contact the Office of the Vice-Provost (Equity, Diversity and Inclusion) for advice.


(Additional terms and definitions are available from the Canadian Race Relations Foundation.)

African Canadian, African American (no hyphen)

anti-racism is more than being nonracist. Anti-racism recognizes that racism has systemic and structural elements and actively takes steps to combat them. It often requires changing systems, policies and practices and taking positive measures to correct for the disadvantages inflicted by racism. (Oxfam Inclusive Language Guide)

antisemitic, antisemitism (no hyphen)

Asian Canadian

BIPOC – not U of A style (see IBPOC). As with any acronym, if BIPOC is used in a quotation, make sure it’s spelled out in full earlier in the story or ask the individual if you can insert alternative wording.

biracial, multiracial – used to describe people of multiple heritages but only when relevant. When referring to an individual, be specific about heritage.

Black – capitalized

brown – lowercase but avoid unless it’s in a quote; use specific heritage instead but, as usual, only when it’s relevant to the story or the individual prefers.

IBPOC – the preferred U of A acronym for Indigenous, Black and people of colour, but avoid. Spell it out instead. If unavoidable, IBPOC or BIPOC are acceptable in a headline or quote but spell it out in full as soon as possible in the story.

minority and visible minority – avoid. Some interpret it to imply a lesser status, though it’s still used in legislation and by government agencies.

non-white – of limited use though it’s often used in census reports and government legislation to draw a distinction with people of European origin.

people of colour (lowercase) but not a person of colour – when referring to an individual, be specific about their heritage as they describe it

racialized/racialization – use only in the context of racial tensions (The Canadian Press). It’s defined in the Canadian Oxford Dictionary as categorizing or dividing according to race.

racial profiling – action undertaken for reasons of safety, security or public protection that relies on assumptions about race, colour, ethnicity, ancestry, religion, or place of origin rather than on reasonable suspicion to single out an individual for greater scrutiny or differential treatment. (Canadian Race Relations Foundation)

racism/systemic racism – “The definition of racism is well understood as a belief in the superiority of one race over another. But systemic racism and structural racism are more nuanced indictments of long-established public institutions, organizations and workplace cultures. Don’t use them interchangeably.” (The Canadian Press)

settler colonialism - a network of laws, policies, structures and practices that perpetuates the erasure and elimination of Indigenous Peoples as a precondition for the expropriation of land and the permanent occupation of European settlers.

Scarborough Charter on Anti-Black Racism and Black Inclusion in Canadian Higher Education – a national plan to fight structural racism signed by the U of A and 40 other peer institutions in November 2021.

white – rather than Caucasian; lowercase because it doesn’t refer to a shared culture and experience.

Back to top ↑