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Public Health Language Guide

Guidelines for inclusive language for written and digital content.
The Public Health Language Guide was created by the BCCDC to offer suggestions and share principles that support written and digital content development that is inclusive and equity-informed so that individuals might feel represented and included. 

Inclusive language is essential for creating safer environments for employees and community members. 

These guidelines incorporate an equity lens and are informed by the Government of British Columbia’s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act, the provincial Commitment on Cultural Safety and Humility in Health Services, and the Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA) Values.

Learn more about what’s included in the guide on the page below.
We recognize that terminology is continually changing, and this guide is not all encompassing. We acknowledge the inherent issues that come with a language guide sponsored by a government-funded organization. This guide is not meant to be prescriptive, and we recognize differences in language across communities, generations, and individuals based on history, context, and setting.

Guiding principles

To practice inclusive language, incorporate the following principles:

Use inclusive and equitable terms that are relevant to your audience. Consider who may be missed when using certain terms to identify what inclusive and affirming words may be relevant to your unique setting and context.‎

“Treat others as they wish to be treated” rather than the golden rule of “Treat others as you wish to be treated.”
Be flexible, revisit regularly, and adapt when needed.

Reflect on who you are and your positionality or social location to understand personal and systemic biases and to develop and maintain respectful processes and relationships based on mutual trust. Cultural humility involves humbly acknowledging yourself as a learner when it comes to understanding another’s experience; this may be accomplished by the centring of the voices of the people with lived and living experiences when presenting information and key messages.

Focus on the person as an individual first. For example, “person/people with a disability” versus “physically disabled,” “crippled,” or “lame.” Note, if you are writing about a specific person use their preferred terms — these options are also included in this guide.

Provide all options in a resource to respect people’s autonomy and agency in decision making.


Use language that incorporates EQUIP Health Care’s Principles of TVIC to create safer environments through organizational strategies and personal practices. A progression of Trauma-Informed-Practice, TVIC “aims to minimize re-traumatization for people who have previously experienced violence, support people currently experiencing violence and draw attention to structural violence.” 


Use action- and-strengths-based language that will work to minimize harm and does not take a prohibitive approach. For example, instead of saying don’t drive a motorcycle, offer recommendations to make driving a motorcycle safer (e.g., wear a helmet, drive the speed limit, and don’t drive when using psychoactive substances). Harm reduction also includes challenging stigma and promoting social justice and human rights. Each person and every situation are unique so creativity and flexibility may be required for implementation in your unique setting and context.

Become aware of our own positions of power, privilege, values, and beliefs. This will help create understanding for the ways our positions impact people who access our resources. Aim to see beyond established ways of thinking. Work to understand the larger patterns, dynamics, and systems at play when reflecting on health disparities and inequities.
Through self-reflexivity, we learn that it is impossible not to have assumptions and judgements. It is the awareness of our assumptions and judgements and knowing how they show up in our writing that will have the biggest impact on how relevant our work is to diverse lived experiences.

Everyone benefits from simple, concise writing that is easy to understand.

Engage meaningfully with a diverse range of people who have lived experiences related to areas of work. Give them decision-making power in the design and delivery of resources; and pay them for their time and expertise.

Aim to have language be relevant to as many people as possible. If your work is more specialized, aim to include language that is relevant to the diverse experiences people have. Explain new terms clearly and concisely. Avoid having people try and remember acronyms that are not common, this is especially challenging for people who are neurodiverse or have reading or cognitive issues/disabilities. Ensure materials meet accessibility standards for design and writing, including supporting screen readers, large font, plain design, and alt text.‎

Use affirming language that clearly signals respect for diverse identities, bodies, and relationships. Once you know the words, terms, names, and pronouns people use when describing themselves and their bodies, use their words in a professional and respectful manner. Mirroring language can be a helpful tool in creating affirming environments for a diverse range of people.‎


Content themes

The guide includes some examples of inclusive and equity-informed language for the following themes:

  • Disease basics
  • Racial, ethnic, and cultural identities
  • Substance use
  • Sex, gender, identities, and gender inclusive language
  • Affirming and inclusive language
  • Sex and sexuality
  • Bodies
  • Relationships
  • Pregnancy and families
  • Socio-economic terms
  • Age and ability
  • Additional topics and terms
  • Terms for weight
Additional information:
  • Why using ‘vulnerable populations’ is not recommended
  • Gender and Indigeneity: Framing of Two-Spirit

SOURCE: Public Health Language Guide ( )
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