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Brand guidelines

Inclusive writing

Our guide to using inclusive language when writing about York St John University.

York St John University is an inclusive and welcoming community. It is important that the language we use, and the way we write, reflects this.

Language is a powerful tool. It can empower and be a force for change, but it can also offend, marginalise, trivialise, and perpetuate harmful attitudes and stereotypes. When communicating, we need to be aware that even if we mean well, certain phrases or words, especially around identity, can be outdated, hurtful and inappropriate.

For ease of use, we have grouped this guide into 8 sections, although we recognise the issues of intersectionality and that an individual's identity should not be compartmentalised in this way. The following guidelines apply across all sections:

  • We do not use language that stigmatises or stereotypes.
  • We do not use descriptors that portray people as dependent, powerless, or less valued than others.
  • We do not use discriminatory terminology.
  • We avoid using unnecessary descriptors that refer to a person’s race, gender identity, age, disability, religion, sex, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, religion, or beliefs, unless those descriptors are relevant to the text.
  • These guidelines are recommendations. We are not banning words and support freedom of speech, thought and expression, provided this does not breach hate crime law. For more information, please read the York St John University Freedom of Speech Code of Practice.

This inclusive writing guidance is based on research and consultation with a range of staff and student groups. We are constantly striving to be as inclusive and welcoming as possible, and would appreciate feedback on this guidance. To give us your feedback, email

Specific guidance


Do not refer to the age of a person unless it is relevant, such as when an activity is only available to people of a specific age.

If you must refer to age, use a specific number rather than a category.

It is fine to use general age categories, such as: children, young people, young adults and older people.

For more definitive guidance on age categories, please refer to the NHS Inclusive Language webpage.


Do say:

  • Gareth is 49

Do not say:

  • Gareth is middle-aged

Preferred terms

Terms to use Terms to avoid
Older people The elderly
Over-65s, people of pensionable age* OAPs, pensioners
Young people Youngsters
Teenagers Youths
Children Kids

*Only use if relevant, and be aware that 'pensionable age' can vary by profession and that some women over 60 are of 'pensionable age' and other people over 60 may not be. 


At York St John University, we avoid any terms which could be considered disablist (discrimination or prejudice against disabled people) or ableist (discrimination in favour of non-disabled people).


Do say:

  • All accommodation is within 1.5 miles of the University.
  • Visit our dedicated webpage for more information.

Do not say:

  • All accommodation is within 20 minutes' walk of the University.
  • See our dedicated webpage for more information.

Defining disability

We follow the social model of disability rather than the medical model.

This means that people are disabled by discriminatory attitudes and social or environmental barriers, which can be changed.

For example, it is the lack of a ramped access which disables the wheelchair user. To read more about the social model of disability, visit the Disability Rights UK website.

Things to avoid

  • We avoid medical labels and referring to a person in terms of a condition.
  • We avoid any words or phrases that express contempt or disapproval, or deprive people of agency, such as 'wheelchair bound' and 'vulnerable'.
  • We do not refer to a person's disability unless it is relevant.
  • We avoid making assumptions about whether someone is a disabled person or not and remember that many impairments and health conditions are invisible.
  • When writing to a disabled person, use their preferred terminology if you know it (and don't be afraid to ask if relevant and possible). For example, one person may prefer hard of hearing whereas another person, with similar hearing loss, may prefer partially deaf.
  • 'Disabled people' is a broad term. Where known and relevant, we use a more specific term.
  • When writing about groups of people living with a similar impairment, we avoid stereotypes.
  • We do not assume a condition changes with age or over time.
  • We do not assume hierarchy between different impairments or health conditions, for example whether a physical impairment is more serious than neurodiversity.
  • We avoid language that either patronises or infantilises disabled people, such as 'brave', or 'overcome their disability' - they are still disabled. 


Do say:

  • Rose Ayling-Ellis is inspiring because her Strictly Come Dancing win challenged prejudice and celebrated the deaf community.
  • Rose Ayling-Ellis is inspiring because she is the first deaf woman to win Strictly Come Dancing.

Do not say:

  • Rose Ayling-Ellis is inspiring because despite being deaf she won Strictly Come Dancing and she overcame her deafness to do this.

Preferred terms

We recognise that language is constantly evolving, and that language has personal meaning and interpretation which is individual.

Recommended terms to use Terms to avoid
Non-disabled person Normal, healthy, able-bodied person

Disabled person, disabled people

(these are identity first and recommended, but alternative options which some people may prefer are person first and include: people with a disability or health condition, people living with a disability, health condition, mental ill health or who have a specific learning difficulty)

The disabled, disAbled, (dis)abled, dis/abled
Deaf, hard of hearing, partial hearing loss, partially deaf Mute, the deaf, hearing impaired
Blind and partially sighted, people with visual impairment The blind, vision impaired, blinded by..., turn a blind eye to...
Person who is..., person who has… Person suffering from..., victim of..., afflicted with...
Uses a wheelchair Wheelchair bound, confined to a wheelchair, in a wheelchair
Person who has... (schizophrenia, etc) Crazy, mad, insane, stupid, idiotic, cognitive disability, mentally disabled
Accessible toilets / lifts etc Disabled toilets / lifts etc
Learning disabilities, people with learning disabilities Learning Disabilities, LD
Condition Disorder
Support, include, adapt for Deal with, fix, cure
Autistic person Person with autism

Accessible hyperlinks

Find out about how to make your website content accessible in our Writing for the web section.

More information

For further information on writing about disability on the website.

The disabled led social enterprise Disability and Ability provide a useful glossary of terms including acronyms and abbreviations which are used when writing about disability and ability.

For a useful article from the BBC on harmful ableist language: The harmful ableist language you unknowingly use

Visit disability equality charity Scope's website for more information on disablism and ableism.

Please refer to the British Dyslexia Association Dyslexia Style Guide for more information on making written communication accessible.


At York St John University, we do not use language which stigmatises or stereotypes mental health or mental ill health. We do not refer to a person's mental health unless it is relevant. Remember, we are all on a continuum in relation to our mental health and we all experience times of emotional distress.

We do not use similes or metaphors which trivialise mental health or mental ill health.


Do say:

  • She has been working very hard to get it finished.

Do not say:

  • She has been working like a maniac to get it finished.

Check that your terminology around diagnosed conditions is up to date. The mental health charity Mind lists types of mental health problems on their website.

It is important to know that there are considerable differences in opinion on how people wish to be identified. If in doubt, check with the person or people that you are speaking with or writing about.

Preferred terms

Terms to use Terms to avoid
Person with lived experience of mental ill health
Person who has lived experience of mental health problems
Person with lived experience of mental health challenges
Crazy, mad, insane, stupid, idiotic
Mentally ill, mental illness, mental health disorder
Managing, experiencing Suffering
A person attempted suicide Attention seeking behaviour
A cry for help
A person lost their life through suicide
A person died by suicide
A person committed suicide
A person who hears voices
A person who has unusual perceptions
A psychotic, a schizophrenic
A person with unusual beliefs Paranoid, delusional

York St John University is working towards being an anti-racist University. Everyone is expected to be aware of the importance of language in challenging systemic and individual racism. Find out more about this on our webpage: How to be an anti-racist.

We have many ethnic groups in the UK, and while White people form the majority ethnicity, Black, Asian and other minority ethnic groups in the UK are a global majority.


At York St John, we aim to use distinct ethnic identities where possible, not the phrases 'White' or 'Black, Asian and minority ethnic'. Where we do need to talk about ethnic minorities as a group, then we write in full 'people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds'. Only use the acronym BAME if needed, for example if word count limitations apply or in social media posts where there is a specific character count. Many international students who are a member of the majority ethnic group in their country of origin are categorised as people from 'Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds'.

Not everyone identifies with the term 'people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds'. Other terms which you can consider using are:

  • People who are racially minoritised
  • People from under represented ethnicities

There are other terms which are used but these are the ones we are currently recommending in this guide. We will be reviewing these terms as part of our Race Equality Charter actions.

  • We use capitalisation for ethnic groups, for example: Black people, Asian people. We use capitalisation for 'White people' for consistency.
  • We do not use capitalisation for the term 'minority ethnic people'.
  • We use the most specific ethnicity which is possible in the context and avoid umbrella terms, where possible. For example, Southeast Asian British people, people of Black heritage, African-Caribbean Black British people, Chinese people. We recognise that some Asian people do want to be known by their religion, such as Punjabi Sikh or Hindu Bengali. Where this is known, we respect individual preferences.
  • At York St John, we avoid language discrimination. This is the unfair treatment of an individual solely because of their variety of English or other characteristics of speech, such as accent, size of vocabulary, and the way or order in which words are used.
  • We do not reference accents or a person's use of language unless necessary.

Defining race and ethnicity

Race and ethnicity are often used interchangeably but it is useful to be clear about the difference.

Race is a socially constructed term without biological merit that has historically been used to categorise different groups of people based on perceived physical differences.

Universities Scotland refer to a 1983 House of Lords decision that suggests an ethnic group would have the following features:

  • A long shared history of which the group is conscious as distinguishing it from other groups and the memory of which it keeps alive
  • A cultural tradition of its own including family and social manners, often but not necessarily associated with religious observance
  • A common, however distant, geographical origin
  • A common language and literature

Preferred terms

Language is evolving and different groups of people prefer different terminology. Below is a guide of terms to use and avoid but, if possible, use terms preferred by the person or group concerned.

Terms to use Terms to avoid
People from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds
People who are racially minoritised
People from under represented ethnicities
Minority (without an adjective)
Ethnic minority students/people
White Caucasian
Be specific and do not classify people by what they are 'not' in relation to the UK majority Non-White
People with a mixed ethnic background
Mixed race
'Half' of any race or ethnicity
Gypsy, Roma and Traveller community
We only use GRT as an acronym where necessary and always as an adjective which is following by a noun, for example GRT people or the GRT community
GRT (as a noun)
Varieties of English Non native use of English

More information

You can see further guidance about writing for ethnicity on the website.


York St John University welcomes people of all faiths and none. We only refer to a person's religion or belief if it is relevant.

Names of religions and religious groups take an upper case.

Groups of individuals from the same religion should be referred to as a community or people, such as members of the Muslim community or Jewish people.

Preferred terms

Terms to useTerms to avoid or use with careful consideration
All faiths and none (for example, we welcome people of all faiths and none)
Religion or belief (for example, we do not tolerate discrimination because of religion or belief)
All faiths, all religions
Do not imply that everyone has a faith or religion. Humanists have beliefs, and saying 'all faiths' excludes those who are atheist or agnostic.
First name Christian name


Sex and gender identity are not the same as sexuality. Check our section below for guidance on writing about sexuality.

At York St John University, we avoid unnecessarily gendering text. This means:

  • We avoid gendered language in general. For example, use 'staff the helpdesk' rather than 'man the helpdesk'.
  • We avoid using sex-specific words to describe people regardless of gender or sex. This is inaccurate and reinforces gender stereotypes. For example, Chair not Chairman; gardener not groundsman.
  • We do not use sexist language.
  • When language relates to an individual, we use their pronouns where known, and we do this consistently. If unknown, we use they/them, as these are recognised singular pronouns.
  • We recognise that gender identity is a spectrum and includes people who identify as non-binary or gender-diverse.
  • We use titles appropriately and consistently. Always remember to use academic titles equally for every gender. For example, Professor Jones and Dr Smith, not Professor Jones and Ann Smith or David Jones and Dr Smith.
  • If using a gender distinction, use it equally. For example, it is fine to refer to the 'men's hockey team' or the 'women's hockey team' if a distinction is needed. The 'hockey team' could refer to either the women's or the men's hockey teams.

We recognise that binary gender terms are still important descriptors, especially in relation to anti-sexism work and support for trans and non binary people. Therefore, if an individual has expressed a gender preference, we respect their wishes.

Defining sex and gender

We do not use gender and sex interchangeably. Sex refers to the biological and physiological characteristics of a person. Gender is a social construct related to a person's internal perception of self as well as their outward presentations and behaviours. Gender can be fixed or fluid.

For more information, please visit the York St John University trans glossary.

Preferred terms

Terms to useTerms to avoid
Humankind, humanity Mankind
Plain English Layman's terms
Transgender (adjective), for example a transgender person Transgender (noun)
Cisgender (adjective), for example a cisgender person Cisgender (noun)
Transition, transitioning Sex change, sex change operation
Staffing, attending to Manning
Police officer, firefighter Policeman, fireman
Pronouns Preferred pronouns

The table below is separate from the one above as it includes 'terms to use with careful consideration' as opposed to 'terms to avoid'. This is because the words and phrases in the 'terms to use with careful consideration' may be completely appropriate in the context you are using them, but they should not be used automatically. For example, it should not be assumed that a woman's partner is a husband, but in a specific circumstance this may be the case and therefore, can be appropriate.

Terms to useTerms to use with careful consideration
Trans and non binary Trans
(It is okay to use 'trans' on its own but consider using 'trans and non binary' or 'trans and gender diverse' as these are more inclusive)
Sibling Brother, sister
Child Boy, girl, son, daughter
People/person or individual(s) Woman/women or man/men
Parent, carer Mother, father
Partner, spouse Wife, husband
Everyone, folks Ladies, gentlemen (any gendered terms such as 'lads' or 'guys')
Whom it may concern, titles, full name, job title Sir, madam
Alum (singular)
Alumni (plural)*
Alumnus (individual who identifies as a male alum)
Alumna (individual who identifies as a female alum)
Alumnae (group who identify as female alum)

*Alumni is a Latin word which refers to a group of graduates. There are several conjugations, however we recommend using the ungendered 'alum'. We use alum for anyone who uses pronouns other than he/him and she/her, when we don't know the gender of the person we're talking about, or when we're referring to a singular graduate in abstract terms.

Here are 3 examples of how we would use alum:

  • York St John alum Bern has written a blog post about their time studying with us.
  • In our archive, we've discovered a month’s worth of English lessons planned by an alum in 1932.
  • As an alum of York St John University, you can get 10% off at York Gin.


Sexuality is not the same as sex and gender identity. Check our section above for guidance on writing about sex and gender identity.

  • At York St John University, when talking about sexuality, we use the terms 'sexual orientation' or 'sexuality' and we refer to the LGBTQ+ community.
  • We only refer to sexuality where it is relevant.
  • Transgender status is a gender identity, not a sexuality. Trans and non-binary people can have any sexual orientation including straight.
  • When discussing relationships, be aware of the wide range of sexual identities. The Proud Trust has a list of words people may use to describe their sexual orientation. If in doubt, check with the person or people that you are speaking with or writing about.

Preferred terms

Terms to useTerms to avoid or use with careful consideration
Lesbian, gay, bi/bisexual, trans/transgender, queer or questioning
(These terms are still used but we need a consistent approach across the University and have opted for LGBTQ+ following consultation with staff and student networks.)
Intersex, DSD (differences of sexual development) Hermaphrodite, DSD (disorders of sexual development)
Parental, parent/carer, partner It it still okay to use maternity (plus noun) or paternity (plus noun), for example 'maternity leave', but do not make assumptions and consider if parental (plus noun) might be better.
The same applies to mother/father - consider if parent/carer would be more inclusive and if partner would be more inclusive than husband/wife.

More information

Visit the Stonewall glossary of terms page for more information on LGBTQ+ inclusive language.

York St John University has always been proud to stand up for social justice. One of our core values is to promote fairness and challenge prejudice. We aim to be at the forefront of eliminating inequalities in higher education and using inclusive language is an important part of this.


  • At York St John, we avoid any terms which could be considered classist, discriminatory or biased.
  • We do not refer to a person's social circumstances (for example, income, education or housing), unless it is relevant.
  • We avoid language discrimination. This is the unfair treatment of an individual solely because of their variety of English or other characteristics of speech, such as accent, size of vocabulary, and the way or order in which words are used.
  • We do not reference accents or a person's use of language unless relevant. Comments such as 'Ooh, do I detect an accent' or even 'I love your accent, where are you from?' can be alienating or seen as discriminatory.

Preferred terms

Terms to useTerms to avoid
People experiencing (material) poverty The poor, in need, the needy, less fortunate, disadvantaged
Students underrepresented in higher education, people from underrepresented backgrounds Disadvantaged students, widening participation (WP) students
People experiencing homelessness, a homeless person The homeless
Low income (as an adjective) Low income (as a noun)
Socioeconomic position Class
Substance use disorder Drug addict, substance abuse disorder
People facing barriers, experiencing challenges People struggling
I don't understand what you said, what did you say? Please can you repeat that? Your accent is hard to understand.*
Varieties of English Non native use of English

*If you are struggling to understand a colleague or student, put the emphasis on your understanding as opposed to the speaker's accent or language.

More information

To read more about York St John University's research into social inclusion, please visit our Institute for Social Justice webpage.


For more information on the support available for students, please visit our support for our diverse community page or our wellbeing and welfare support page.

For more information on our approach to equality and diversity, please visit our Equality and Diversity page. The York St John University Equality, Diversity and Human Rights Policy Statement is also available on this page.

For more information for staff on equality, diversity and inclusion at York St John University, please visit our Equality and Diversity Intranet page.

Reporting discrimination

Hateful language or behaviour, or discrimination towards someone because of their race, gender identity, age, disability, religion, sex, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, religion or beliefs, or any other grounds will not be tolerated at York St John.

All students can report incidents anonymously on the Report and Support website.

Staff may speak to their line manager, Head of School, a member of the Human Resources department, or a Trade Union Representative.

For more information, please visit our page: Our approach to dignity and respect. We also encourage people to report hate crime to the Police.