Use Better Words to Be More Inclusive

This Week In Writing, we talk about words to avoid in 2023, a special offer from a friend, and Medium joining Mastodon

Use Better Words to Be More Inclusive
"a computer screen filled with colorful letters" by Justin Cox and Midjourney

One thing that I’m loving about Mastodon is the community push for accessible content. On the platform — no, that’s not the right word… Posts in the Fediverseare encouraged to include very detailed ALT-text for all images to support visually impaired users. It’s a great feature and one that’s forcing me to be more descriptive with my ALT text.

In 2021, I wrote a newsletter about writing for accessibility. It talked about ALT text, color combinations, and more. Writers need to consider these things to create more inclusive reading experiences for our audience.

Today, I want to share another way to be more inclusive: avoiding certain words. Again, thanks to Mastodon, I’ve come across two articles containing “words to avoid” when writing or speaking. The first article, written by Lydia X. Z. Brown, originally dates back over a decade ago and contains ableist phrasing. For example:

Lame
Refers to people with physical or mobility disabilities. Often used as a metaphor.
Consider instead: Boring, uninteresting, monotonous, lacks excitement, uncool, out of fashion (if using metaphors); physically disabled person, person with a mobility impairment, paralyzed person (if referring to a disabled person)

90’s me is cringing at the wide use of the term!

The second link, written by Ryan Gerhardt, focuses on the nonprofit community. Here’s an example from his list:

Guru/Ninja
Some of these names and labels are also culturally appropriative and can be offensive. The title of “guru” holds a place of high esteem in Buddhist and Hindu religions, and being a “ninja” has deep cultural roots, history, and implications in Japanese society. When either is misappropriated or used casually to refer to someone who is skilled at any random thing, their importance and significance are greatly diminished.

I’m all for eliminating these terms since they are widely overused. However, I never really considered the cultural context of either, so it’s great that articles like this exist!

Finally, a third link that doesn’t have words to avoid but does focus on writing accessibility is a font designed by Braille Institute.

Atkinson Hyperlegible font is named after Braille Institute founder, J. Robert Atkinson. What makes it different from traditional typography design is that it focuses on letterform distinction to increase character recognition, ultimately improving readability.

It’s designed to be, well, hyperlegible for everyone, including those with vision difficulties. It’s a great-looking font, especially for anyone who writes in Markdown, like me.

What words do you avoid to ensure your writing is inclusive?

Online Writing Challenge

My friend Sinem Günel is hosting a free 5-Day Online Writing Challenge to help you grow your audience and income this year. It starts on Monday, January 23rd. Sinem is simply the best online writing instructor I know, and she consistently brings incredible value to writers.

Sign up for Sinem’s free Online Writing Challenge. This is an affiliate link. If you decide to upgrade to Sinem’s VIP experience or join the Medium Writing Academy, I’ll get a small commission.

Medium Joins Mastodon

Last week, Tony Stubblebine announced Medium joined the Fediverse through a dedicated me.dm Mastodon instance. The simply perfect domain name is a very interesting step. Through Mastodon replies, Tony also noted additional Mastodon integration would be coming soon to Medium, including direct sharing from articles.

About six months ago, I wrote a newsletter explaining that all writers should be on Twitter. Boy, did that age poorly! My argument was based on sharing from Medium to Twitter, which automatically tags a user’s Twitter account. With Medium’s move into Mastodon, you should have an account on Mastodon!

I moved The Writing Cooperative’s Mastodon account to the Medium instance. You can find it at @[email protected], and you can find my personal account at @[email protected]. I’m still trying to figure out what to post on The Writing Cooperative’s account, but it won’t just be an RSS feed of links like the Twitter account. Have a suggestion? Reply to the announcement post.


Footnote: Every time I read or type fediverse, I can’t help but think of Evelyn jumping through the Alpha-Verse.

Justin Cox Justin Cox

Justin Cox is a donut-loving, word-writing, nonprofit consultant based in Orlando. He also runs The Writing Cooperative on Medium. Come say hello!