Inclusive content considerations
Belonging, equity, diversity, and inclusion (BEDI)
Making learning available to all is a big part of our mission. We are proud to have learners all over the world representing a broad array of identities, cultures, and walks of life. It’s important to us that the content we provide is respectful and affirming of all of them and free of bias. This is particularly true for underrepresented groups.
Creating unbiased content is as simple as sticking to straightforward business and technical topics with limited additional context. However, learners may be more receptive and feel a greater sense of belonging when instructors take the intentional and proactive step of representing all our users.
Developing inclusive content isn’t hard when you’re aware of diversity and plan for inclusive language. And inclusive language isn’t about being “politically correct” — it’s about treating everyone with equal respect and recognizing different experiences, cultures, and identities. Here are some things to keep in mind:
Country of origin
Assuming someone’s background knowledge of any country can leave many people feeling left out. For example, items that assume knowledge of local zip codes, state abbreviations, and so on are unfair to users outside the US with no familiarity. It’s okay to reference these in a context, but you should define them and not assume the user already knows them.
- For instance, if discussing data on the largest US states, don’t write “CA” and “TX”. Instead, write “California (CA)” and “Texas (TX)”. After the abbreviations have been defined once, they may be used again without redefining them.
As we’ve said, you should assume that two-thirds of your learners will know your language as a second language. As an English speaker, avoid referring to other languages as “foreign languages” since to some of your learners, English is foreign to them. Similarly, if you’re a US-based instructor, rather than saying “international” or “foreign students,” you might say “students outside of the US.”
Use of names
Avoiding the use of names helps to ensure that content isn’t biased toward any particular culture or gender and makes the content less likely to fall into any of the other BEDI pitfalls listed here. Consider using the 2nd person (“you”) whenever possible, and when personal pronouns are needed, you might consider using either the gender-neutral “they” or the underrepresented “she”.
- For instance, instead of writing, “George’s spreadsheet has 100 rows”, try using, “Your spreadsheet has 100 rows. Here’s how you could…” or “A data scientist is working with a spreadsheet of 100 rows. Here’s how she would…”
Belonging is one of our core learning design tenets, so your course content shouldn’t make any assumptions about your learners that might make some of them feel invisible. People of any age, race, class, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, nationality, ethnicity, culture, home language, and disability status may be taking your course. The examples below will give you a sense of what types of issues to look out for.
Avoid content that implies that only men and women exist, such as saying “the opposite sex,” since we know that there are many people who identify with non-binary or third genders. However, if you need to talk about two opposite things, use one that does not rely on identity markers at all, such as remote vs. in-office workers. We also recommend using gender-neutral job titles such as firefighter or salesperson instead of fireman or salesman.
We never want to assume that any race is a default race, and instead remember that race and ethnicity are often different. For example, use African American only to refer to American Black people of African descent, not as a generalized term since there are large populations of Black people of Caribbean, European, or Indigenous descent among others. It’s acceptable to use “people of color” when referring to multiple races, but when referring to a single group, be specific.
It’s especially important to understand the communities you may reference, since their preferences are not all the same. For example, some prefer the use of person-first language, such as “a person living with vision impairment” instead of “a blind person.” This avoids defining people by their disabilities. However, the Deaf and Autistic communities prefer the use of disability-first language, such as “Deaf person.”
We included a link to a Disability Language Style Guide in this article on resources on accessibility and inclusivity. If you’re still unsure, ask a member of the community. Also keep in mind that not all disabilities, such as a learning disability or a mental health illness, are observable. As such, we recommend using phrases such as “the model returned unexpected results” instead of “the model returned crazy results” and “do a final check against the requirements” instead of “do a final sanity-check.”
Remember that your learners may practice many different faiths or come from a secular background. Unless it is central to the topic, it’s a best practice to use language that isn’t affiliated with a particular religion or spiritual belief/practice. It’s also recommended that groups who share the same religion should be referred to as a community, such as “members of the Jewish community,” instead of saying “Jews” or “Muslims.”
Finally, we never want to assume that all learners are heterosexual. You might say “couples” or “partners” or “spouses” instead of “husbands and wives” or “boyfriends and girlfriends.” Also use current terms such as the LGBTQ community, a gay person, or a lesbian, instead of older/derogatory terms like homosexual.
There are more examples, handbooks, and glossaries for inclusive writing in this article on resources on accessibility and inclusivity.
Links to other accessibility and inclusivity articles