6.4 Inclusive Language
Given the nature of the Museum, it is crucial that we use language that eliminates sexual, racial and ethnic stereotyping. Inclusive language is used as much as possible in Museum communications of all kinds: exhibit texts, scripts, web content, digital media, programming and educational materials, and all other platforms.
The CMHR has created and maintained a style guide and lexicon that details how inclusive language is used throughout the Museum. The Museum also follows the guidelines on inclusive language in written communications in Chapter 14 of The Canadian Style.
This section outlines the specific rules the CMHR follows when referring to:
- Indigenous/Aboriginal peoples
- Ethnic or racial groups or nationalities
- Persons with disabilities
- People of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities
Note that some exceptions in using inclusive language do occur, as in these examples:
- Historical context – Because Inuit women fished, it is not appropriate to use fishermen in exhibit text. However, using lumbermen in exhibit text on 18th-century tools is likely to be correct because women were not hired to cut trees at that time.
- Quotations – Original text should not be changed to be made inclusive. The same applies to titles and excerpts of official bilingual documents.
- Space constraints – In exceptional circumstances where space is very limited, a plural masculine noun may be used in French to designate a group that includes people of all genders.
For a list of gender-neutral terms used by the Museum, see Appendix B.
References to Indigenous/Aboriginal Peoples
References to Indigenous peoples are context-specific. The following describes the usage that has been adopted by the Museum:
In an international context, the English term most widely used is “Indigenous.” In a Canadian context, the terms Indigenous person/Indigenous peoples or and Aboriginal person/Aboriginal peoples, rather than Aboriginal(s) or Aboriginal Canadian(s), are used. The Museum gives priority to the term “Indigenous peoples” or “Indigenous person” in exhibit text and other written communications for visitors based on current cultural and terminological practice. The word “Aboriginal” is still used in legal contexts.
These terms include the following three groups:
- First Nations peoples or First Nations communities
- Métis or Métis people
- Inuit (the singular term is Inuk)
In English, when referring to First Nations, Métis or Inuit peoples, the CMHR uses the more specific terms rather than Indigenous or Aboriginal.
NOTE: Because the term Inuit means “the people,” do not use “the” or “people” with Inuit. Also, neither “Inuk” nor “Inuit” should be pluralized with an “s.”
- Correct: Inuit are resilient.
- Incorrect: The Inuit are resilient.
- Incorrect: The Inuits are resilient
- Incorrect: Inuit people are resilient.
First Nations’ names are generally preceded by the article “the,” for example, the Gwich’in, the Sahtu Dene and the Iroquois. This is not a hard and fast rule; articles can be dropped in certain sentence structures.
- The term “Indian” is only used in conjunction with discussions of The Indian Act or when it is in the official name of a group or organization.
References to Ethnic or Racial Groups or Nationalities
The Museum avoids using ethnic or racial references to describe individuals, groups or attributes. However, sometimes such references are needed to clearly communicate or understand the content of an exhibit or media production. In these cases, the individual or group is identified or named first, followed by ethnicity or race.
As per The Canadian Style (chapter 4.11), nouns and adjectives referring to race, nationality and language in English are capitalized.
For example, the word “Black” is always capitalized when used as a noun and as an adjective. For the noun, use terms such as Black Canadians or Black people. The terms “African Canadians” and “African Americans” should be avoided, unless referring specifically to persons who have immigrated to Canada or the United States from Africa and who are of first and second generations.
Note: The CMHR does not capitalize the word “white” when referring to the racial category. This is in keeping with current terminological research.
References to Persons with Disabilities
The language related to disabilities is ever-evolving. It has come a long way and will continue to change. When referring to people with disabilities, the CMHR pays particular attention to the issues around nuances, labelling and identity in visitor-facing texts.
As noted in Chapter 14 of The Canadian Style, we should not define people by their differences. As much as possible, we avoid stereotypes and specific labels or terms and refer more, if necessary, to the ways that people move around, the aids they use or the ways by which they perceive/gather information, as in these examples:
Use: Steve uses a wheelchair to get around.
Avoid: Steve has a mobility impairment.
Use: Using the ASL self-guided tour, Janet enjoyed her visit at the Museum.
Avoid: Janet, who is Deaf, enjoyed her visit at the Museum.
However, there are situations when it is necessary to use specific terms in exhibit text. The Museum has established a list of terms to use through research and consultation.
NOTE: For French terms, refer to Termium Plus as well as the Chroniques de langue article “Disability : déficience, incapacité, handicap….” The Museum’s research on inclusive language for the English word disability in French indicates that déficience is not the preferred term in most cases and that we should favour the terms incapacité and limitation instead.
person with a disability
persons with disabilities
person with reduced mobility
person with a physical disability
person who is blind
person with a vision disability or person with low or minimal vision
person who is hard of hearing
person who is Deaf
person who is Deaf-Blind
person with a hearing loss
person with a mental disability or person with a cognitive disability
person with an intellectual disability or person with a developmental disability
person who is non-verbal
- In general or social contexts, the plural form people may be substituted for persons, which tends to be used in formal, government or legal documents.
- The term hard of hearing encompasses all people who have a hearing disability and is therefore the preferred term. When capitalized, the word “Deaf” is a sociological term referring to those with a hearing loss who identify with and participate in the culture, society, and language of Deaf people, which is based on Sign language.
- The same applies to the term Deaf-Blind.
References to People of Diverse Sexual Orientations and Gender Identities
For general communications, such as speeches and press releases, the CMHR uses a broadly inclusive expression such as “all sexual orientations and gender identities” or “persons/people of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities,” and avoids referring to an acronym. If an acronym absolutely needs to be used because of space restrictions (e.g., in social media), the Museum recommends using LGBTTQ*. The acronym may also be used in other contexts on a case-by-case basis (e.g., in correspondence or in consecutive references).
The Museum’s exhibit texts also feature this inclusive language wherever possible, through the use of the expressions “all sexual orientations and gender identities” or “persons/people of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities.” More specific language may be used on a case-by-case basis, depending on the exhibit content. In the Museum’s Same-Sex Marriage story alcove, for example, the terms “same-sex”, “gay” and “lesbian” suffice.
The Museum conducted extensive research into current terminology used to refer to people of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities to support the standards outlined above. For more information on the background of this research, see Appendix C.