Making words accessible

When we think of accessibility, we usually think of physical accessibility, making sure that everyone can enter or reach a place, see an image or hear a message. But what if accessibility was also about choosing the right words?

Accessibility means improving Government of Canada programs and services, removing barriers and promoting inclusion to give all Canadians an equal opportunity to participate in Canadian society.

Public Services and Procurement Canada's (PSPC) Translation Bureau recently shared the Guide on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Terminology on the Language Portal of Canada. This new resource provides definitions and usage notes that offer useful explanations when it comes to choosing the right word for inclusive language, which includes addressing accessibility issues.

The result of meticulous work and extensive consultation

The Guide is the result of considerable efforts invested by the Interdepartmental Terminology Committee on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. The Committee is co-chaired by Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC), Women and Gender Equality Canada and the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat. More than 20 federal departments and agencies participate in the Committee.

The Guide took almost a year of meticulous work to create. The PSPC Persons with Disabilities Network was consulted early in the development of the Guide. “We wanted to make sure that all points of view were considered,” says Josée Lacroix, one of the terminologists who was part of the team that worked on the project at the Translation Bureau. “We received over 2,000 comments during consultations! It was clear that we covered topics that people cared about. We analyzed each comment very carefully.”

“We conducted extensive research to gather all relevant information on the concepts covered,” explains Karen Lee Chung, another terminologist who worked on the Guide. “We used the Translation Bureau's Gender and Sexual and Diversity Glossary and Accessibility Glossary and many resources that Committee members were kind enough to provide. Collaboration was truly a key component of this project.”

Discussions and consensus

“We worked together to flesh out the more complex concepts,” says Josée. “We collaborated to reach consensus decisions, or as close to consensus as possible, because as we point out in the Guide's introduction, not everyone will necessarily agree with some of the terms and definitions.”

More specifically, the use of certain terms related to accessibility has sparked intense discussion. How do we best define what a disability is? And which term is better: a person with a disability or a disabled person? “In many cases, the solution was to list all the possibilities and to include a note indicating the contexts in which each seemed most appropriate,” explains Karen. “In the context of accessibility, just like in the context of equity, diversity and inclusion our reflex should be to ask the person we are addressing which term they prefer. It's the greatest sign of openness.”

Making the Guide accessible

It was clear that the Guide itself had to be accessible to everyone and that its published format had to comply with the Government of Canada's Standard on Web Accessibility. This means that people who use a screen reader or other assistive reading software can rest assured that they will be able to access the Guide's content easily.

The Guide on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Terminology is intended to be a living document and will be improved regularly. You can help us keep the Guide up to date by filling out the suggestion form on the Guide's web page.

Check out the Language Portal of Canada to learn more about the Guide and other language resources made available to you by the Translation Bureau.

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