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New language guide helps to destigmatize COVID-19

The new tool guides written and digital content about COVID-19 and our lives during the pandemic.
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A new language guide aims to make COVID-19 content more inclusive and prevent stigmatization of individuals and groups who are often inadvertently excluded from health advice because they are not properly identified or defined. 

The comprehensive guide provides recommendations on the terms and phrases to use to describe identities and behaviours, and serves as a tool for writing about COVID-19 and its effect on people. 

“We all have heard of the golden rule — treat others as you wish to be treated — and this document is a practical how-to-guide of the platinum rule: treat others as they want to be treated,” said Harlan Pruden, educator with the Chee Mamuk program at the BC Centre for Disease Control and lead author of the guide. “Our guide offers a way to create safer environments for employees and all community members with a focus on using person-first language, meaning the focus is on the individual rather than their diagnosis or behaviour.”
The guide begins with broad guiding principles followed by specific information by topic that includes definitions, language options and explains why some terms are preferred over others. It draws attention to language that can exclude individuals leading to unequal access to information that help others make choices on how to protect themselves, their families and their communities during the pandemic.

“British Columbians have made tremendous sacrifices and efforts to contain COVID-19 and prevent it from spreading,” said Dr. Réka Gustafson, vice president of public health and wellness for Provincial Health Services Authority and deputy provincial health officer. “As we ask everyone to continue to work together, it’s critical that we speak to everyone. We don’t want how we say things to perpetuate harms and marginalize individuals, especially those who have a history of exclusion.”

"Early evidence out of the BCCDC survey on COVID-19 misinformation showed the importance of understanding our diverse communities' needs,’ said Pruden. “Our Chinese, South Asian and Southeast Asian communities experience greater stress related to COVID-19 and a greater burden of COVID-19 stigma. Addressing stigmatizing language is one way we can help meet their needs."

In addition to providing recommendations on the language and terms to use, the guide also explains why these recommendations are being made and principles to follow.

The guide covers language on:
  • Disease basics
  • Race, ethnic and cultural identifies
  • Substance use 
  • Sex, gender, sexual identities, pronouns and gender inclusive language
  • Sexuality and bodies 
  • Relationships, family status and pregnancy 
  • Age and ability 

See the COVID-19 Language Guide.




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