Talking about people, including deaf and blind, age, faith, family origin, gender

Talking about people, including deaf and blind, age, faith, family origin, gender

Use person‑centred language. Be respectful, empathetic and inclusive. Person-centred language reflects good manners and sensitivity, not political correctness.

Avoid labelling people. Conditions describe what a person has, not what a person is. Diseases are treated, not people. Diseases, not people, respond to treatment. Conditions, not people, are monitored. People are not unsuitable for treatments: treatments are unsuitable for them. People have diseases, they don't suffer from them.

There are some important exceptions. See table 1 and gov.uk's inclusive language: words to use and avoid when writing about disability.

Table 1 Talking about people: dos and don'ts

Do use

Don't use

People with diabetes

Diabetics

People with schizophrenia

Schizophrenics

People who smoke

Smokers

People who use drugs

Drug users, drug addicts

People who are dependent on alcohol

People who misuse alcohol

Alcoholic

People who abuse alcohol

A person with depression

A person suffering from depression

People with behaviour that challenges services

People with challenging behaviour

People with a learning disability

People with learning disabilities, people with intellectual disabilities

Disabled people

People with a disability

Autistic people

People with autism

Surgery is unsuitable for some people

Some people are unsuitable for surgery

If the disease has already been treated

If the person has already been treated

The disease did not respond to treatment

The patient did not respond to treatment

When monitoring the disease

When monitoring the patient

Try to use people, not patients or service users. Sometimes it will make sense to use other terms (for example, when talking about clinical trials or to distinguish from other groups), but even then, consider people in the trial or people who use X services.

Deaf and blind

Deaf can be used to mean any range of hearing loss, but Deaf (with a capital D) may also refer to people who consider themselves to be part of a cultural or linguistic minority. Most members of this community use a sign language as their preferred language. People with hearing loss or people with hearing impairment may be more suitable.

Blind refers to total loss of vision. Visual impairment refers to any kind of partial sight that is below 'normal' levels. Remember to use whichever is appropriate for the context.

Age

Use young people and older people (not adolescents, teenagers, the elderly or old people). It's often better to be specific: say 'people aged 90 and over', not 'very old people'.

Be accurate: men over 65 is different from men aged 65 and over (1 includes men aged exactly 65, the other doesn't).

Don't use the age of… or …years of age. Saying X‑year olds or over Xs is fine as long as it's accurate.

Don't use neonates. If you mean newborn babies, say in newborn babies. If you specifically mean the neonatal period (that is, up until 28 days), say in newborn babies under 28 days.

If you need to use specific age groups, we stratify them as follows. Define them at first use:

  • babies or infants: 1 year and under

  • children: up to 12

  • young people: between 12 and 17

  • adults: 18 and over

  • older people: 65 and over.

Faith

Avoid faith-specific language or terminology that may exclude some of our users (use first name not Christian name).

Use faith groups to refer to people with religious beliefs collectively. Take into account the customs and practices associated with particular beliefs, but avoid stereotyping or making assumptions. Give examples if possible, but don't try to list every possible faith group that shares a particular belief.

Family origin

Use family origin not race. Try to avoid using skin colour as a catch‑all. It is fine to use white or black but be more specific if you can ('people of south-east Asian family origin'; 'people of African family origin').

Use ethnicity generally ('there is no link between mental health problems and ethnicity') but avoid labelling people based on their ethnicity.

Don't use BME or BAME. Use black, Asian and minority ethnic groups to describe people in the UK who are not part of the white majority.

Don't use Caucasian.

Use Gypsies, Roma and Travellers to cover Romany gypsies and Irish travellers, among others.

Gender

Use trans not transgender or transsexual. Trans is an umbrella term that refers to people whose gender identity or expression differs from their birth sex.

Use sexual orientation not sexuality. Do not confuse sexual orientation with gender identity.

Use gender-neutral language. This means using 'people', 'they' and 'them' instead of 'women', 'men' and 'his' or 'her'.

Sex-specific language may be more appropriate in some cases:

  • If there are anatomical differences that are important for the recommendations (for example, if penile or vaginal surgery is used). In this case, it's usually better to use 'men and women' instead of 'people with a penis' and 'people with a vagina'.

  • When referring to pregnancy. Use 'pregnant women' (not 'pregnant people') for consistency with the NHS website.

  • When describing sex-specific risk factors that could lead to inaccuracies in how the guidance is used. For example, if there are different treatment pathways based on biological factors.

  • It's sometimes best to reword the sentence to avoid referring to 'people', 'men' or 'women' at all. See table 2 for some examples. Ask the editorial team for advice if you are unsure.

Table 2 Gender wording examples

Original

Gender-neutral

Reworded

Offer hormonal treatment to women with suspected, confirmed or recurrent endometriosis.

Offer hormonal treatment to people with suspected, confirmed or recurrent endometriosis.

Offer hormonal treatment if there is suspected, confirmed or recurrent endometriosis.

Warn men undergoing radical treatment for prostate cancer of the likely effects of the treatment on their urinary function.

Warn people undergoing radical treatment for prostate cancer of the likely effects of the treatment on their urinary function.

Explain how radical treatment for prostate cancer may have negative effects on urinary function.

Diagnose gestational diabetes if the woman has a 2-hour plasma glucose level of 7.8 mmol/litre or above following an oral glucose tolerance test.

Diagnose gestational diabetes if the person has a 2-hour plasma glucose level of 7.8 mmol/litre or above following an oral glucose tolerance test.

Diagnose gestational diabetes if an oral glucose tolerance test shows plasma glucose levels of 7.8 mmol/litre or above.

Other terms

Try not to use clinician. Healthcare professional is preferable if you want to specify a qualified professional, or healthcare worker for more general use.

Table 3 Social and care terms: dos and don'ts

Do use

Don't use

End-of-life care

Terminal care

Socioeconomic status

Class

Poor people

Wealthy people

People who are under served

(but be more specific if you can)

People who are neglected

Hard-to-reach people

Disadvantaged people

People who are homeless

The homeless

People who sleep rough

People without homes

People who take their own life

People who die by suicide

People who commit suicide

People who kill themselves

Use frailer people for people whose age or physical characteristics may prevent their having certain treatments ('Older, frailer people for whom chemotherapy is not suitable').

Asylum seeker, refugee and migrant worker are not interchangeable.

Refer to the Care and Support Jargon Buster put together by Think Local Act Personal for other helpful social care definitions.