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Equity Language Guide for Recreation Professionals

Equity Language Guide

The National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) recently published the Equity Language Guide, detailing a glossary of terms to help park and recreation professionals develop a cohesive language around diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), race, age, gender, sexual orientation, ability and more.

This guide can not only help recreation professionals use language that is inclusive and welcoming for all, but it also provides writing advice that can be utilized when it comes to signage in and around your facilities, social media and all forms of marketing. Overall, the guide is beneficial to all members of your team – and is suggested – so all staff are utilizing the same, cohesive language.

General writing advice for utilizing the guide, courtesy of the NRPA Equity Language Guide:

  • Words are capitalized or not based on how they should be used. If capitalization varies, an explanation has been given for which one to use.
  • Read descriptions and usage carefully. Using one word in a certain situation may not make sense in another situation, even if they seem similar.
  • In all instances when dealing with someone’s race, identity and culture, it is imperative that you ask how people prefer to be identified.
  • When citing research reports or legal cases that use different terms than those suggested in the guide, you may use the original language, in quotes, for clarity. If you need to reference the same idea or term outside of quotes, use the language suggested in this guide. If possible, include a note about why a different term is being used — it may even be a teaching opportunity.
  • Be as specific as possible. Always use a more specific term, if possible. If you find yourself relying on generalizations, do some research into the groups of people, topics or locations you are writing about.
  • Use people-first language. For example, say “person with a disability” instead of “disabled person.”
  • Use active voice when writing, versus passive voice. You can typically identify the use of passive voice by looking for “to be” verbs (is, was, are, etc.). Active voice places the emphasis on the person doing the action.
  • In most cases, write with a sixth- to eighth-grade reading level in mind to ensure clarity in your message. Simple words and phrases usually create a stronger message than long-winded sentences and phrases. Avoid jargon.
  • Keep in mind that terminology can change frequently. One major news event can change the meaning of a previously innocuous word.
  • Remember, “progress not perfection.” Sometimes, you will get it wrong or forget and that’s OK. Take a moment, acknowledge it and commit to doing better next time. Change is a process, and it is important to hold each other accountable in a supportive way.

Recreation professionals across the country have already began incorporating these practices into their organizations. For example, Jonathan Lev, the executive director of the Boulder JCC, previously shared in this year’s special DEI feature, one DEI initiative the Boulder JCC’s DEI committee has focused on is a staff learning club to create opportunities for discussion and engagement.

“Through the learning club, we have discussed racism, the importance of language, and how we can contribute to a more just future through reading and discussion of “Kindred” by Octavia Butler and “How to Be an Antiracist” by Ibram X. Kendi,” said Lev. “We have also discussed gender identity through reading and discussion of “Felix Ever After” by Kacen Callender and “How to They/Them” by Stuart Getty. Additionally, the DEI committee has engaged in smaller learning discussions at our weekly meetings, discussing topics such as voter rights, the challenges facing those with disabilities, the conflict in the Middle East, bias in education and more.”

As NRPA stated in the introduction of the guide, “The words we use matter — language has the power to uplift as well as marginalize. As the creators of community, park and recreation professionals can especially benefit from using language that is inclusive and welcoming for all people.”

View NRPA’s Equity Language Guide.


*Note: The guide is a living document and will change frequently.

Brittany Howard

Brittany is the editor of Community Rec Magazine. Reach her at brittany@peakemedia.com.

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