Speaking, writing and reading are integral to my everyday life.
If you haven’t guessed by now, to say I read a lot is probably an understatement. Having grown up in a small town near Stratford, Ontario, Canada, I learned from a very young age that language is a powerful, powerful thing. It is a tool that can be used to either include or exclude someone.
Being able to communicate is not the same as having language. Having language means that you are able to communicate in such a way that others understand you. Language becomes more powerful when understood by a wider community than just those closest to you.
We use language to convey meaning and define purpose. If “Content is KING” as Bill Gates proclaimed in 1996, then inclusive content is definitely QUEEN in my books. Without content, this would just be an empty page. Pretty boring, right? So, there are two main aspects to think about when we think of inclusive content. Both are equally important:
The substance or in other words what the content is saying
The presentation or how the content is being presented.
You can easily start making your language more inclusive by doing these 5 things:
Avoiding descriptors that refer to a person’s race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, or age, unless those descriptors are relevant to the story
When possible, omitting gender-specific pronouns.
Replacing third person (she/he) with second person pronoun (you).
Replacing adjectives for neutral alternatives, such as indefinite adjectives, substantives, or objects.
Avoiding the use of black, white, dark, or light as metaphors… for obvious reasons that I won’t get into.
Secondly, you want to ensure the experience is as intuitive and seamless as possible. In other words, don’t make me think!
Use plain language.
Give just the information your users need, right when they need it.
Keep sentences short
Aim for 5th-8th grade readability.
Write meaningful link text.
Create text alternatives for charts and graphs.
Use descriptive alt text for images, icons, and controls. If the text is meant to be read, don’t put it in an image.
Ensure semantically meaningful page structure.
At its core, being an Inclusive Content Queen is about the platinum rule of treating others as they would like to be treated. This is achieved by asking questions, being open to feedback, and designing content with compassion, respect and empathy. It isn’t about knowing all the answers, avoiding criticism or conflict, being politically correct or jumping on a bandwagon. It’s about learning, unlearning, re-learning and making informed choices backed up by evidence and research out of a genuine care and concern for the people that we design for.