NSights Blog

Introducing the IDEAL guide

The new Inclusion, diversity, equity & access language guide seeks to make us a stronger Wolf Pack

Language is powerful. Nothing quite matches its ability to make someone feel welcomed, valued and included in a community. As a/the Wolf Pack, we place high importance on those values. With this in mind, our team, a collection of folks from across campus, set out to make a guide to the kind of language that helps us honor, respect and support our fellow Pack members: the Inclusion, diversity, equity & access language (IDEAL) guide.

The IDEAL guide offers direction on a collection of subjects related to the eponymous topics for anyone producing official University communications. But it’s more than that. As our team researched this guide and received feedback from the 50+ experts across the University we consulted, we all learned new words and ideas. We gained perspective on things we’d taken for granted. We found blind spots we didn’t know we had.

Personally, when it came to the topic of disability, I never knew what to say. I fell into the trap of trying to talk around the word with baroque phrases like ‘person who has a different level of ability’ that leaned heavily on people-first language and followed it up with overly inoffensive avoidant gobbledygook. One of the most important pieces of feedback that we got, for me, was that disability is not a bad or forbidden word. As acceptance grows, many people now even prefer identity-first language over people-first language, owning their disability. Identity-first language can be empowering. I didn’t know that either.

It hit home for me. Part of my journey through mental health over the past few years has been learning not to avoid things. Being called a ‘person with bipolar disorder’ never really resonated with me. I felt the same avoidance I had with the term disability. I felt it even more when people good-naturedly danced around my diagnosis, just as I had with others. I am bipolar. That’s okay.

I am also a white, heterosexual, cisgendered man with all the privilege that comes along with it. There are huge swathes of the human experience that I am not privy to. I don’t know what it’s like to be you. I am not an expert in which words cut deeply or which phrases are laced with a history of violence and oppression. But I can listen. I can listen and learn and try to do better every day, and that’s what this guide is for. That’s what our team tried to remember every step of the way.

Any attempt to capture the language of a moment in time will find itself inaccurate and outdated in short order. This project began in a very different world. Before COVID-19. Before Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd. Before the cultural upheaval we’ve seen since. As our team worked to put this guide together, attitudes about certain concepts changed and language continued to evolve, just as it is doing now. The IDEAL guide is a living document for just this reason.

Far from sterilizing it, guides like these encourage the language we use every day to grow in the direction of our ideals. They share the words and phrases that help people feel like welcome parts of the greater conversation. We want everyone to feel empowered to speak up, to feel included as part of the Wolf Pack because there is no inclusive environment without inclusive language. We want to acknowledge and respect the full range of human diversity and experience at our great University.

I encourage you to look through this guide with an eye for empathy, to reflect on the language you use and to employ some of these concepts in your day-to-day life if you aren’t already. I also encourage you to help us keep this document updated, refreshed and as helpful as possible. You can reach out to us at communications@unr.edu.

Go to the IDEAL guide

Karl Fendelander
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