Accessibility & Inclusion

If you do not intentionally include your audience, you might unintentionally exclude them. Using language that is accessible and inclusive will assure more of your readers that they’re welcome on your website.

Accessibility increases reading grade level

Just using the word “accessibility” increases the reading level of your work because it’s a 13-letter, 6-syllable word. Reading level assessment tools consider word length and number of syllables when they evaluate copy. Use words like accessibility sparingly to keep the reading level at the Commonwealth’s preferred 5th grade level.

Italics & bold text for emphasis

Italics and bold are great for emphasizing keywords or points in a document but are not always accessible. First, by default, screen reading programs will not inform the user of any words in bold or italics; therefore, this group of users could miss important information or context. When reading through your content, ask yourself, “Does this still make sense if I do not see the bold or italic text?" You may need to rewrite your content or present the information differently.
Second, it is very easy to overdo bold and italic text for emphasis. This can be problematic for all users, especially those with neurodivergent issues. If every other word is emphasized, the user is less likely to understand any of your content, let alone the parts you’ve stressed. Therefore, it’s best to keep your use of bold and italic text to a minimum.

Inclusive language

As a writer for the Commonwealth, it’s important to be as inclusive and respectful of as many different life experiences and backgrounds as possible. This means you need to write with empathy and take steps to understand how language can make certain populations feel excluded or even threatened by language.


When writing for a broad audience, it’s very likely that members of your audience might:

  • Have a disability
  • Be part of a much older or younger generation
  • Identify as non-binary or transgender
  • Have limited educational and financial access
  • Be an immigrant
  • Have a darker or lighter skin color than you
  • Have different experience of the world because they’re not the same sex as you


What it is:

Ableism is discrimination that favors people without disabilities.

  • Just as accommodations can be made for employees with disabilities, accommodations can be made for website visitors with disabilities.
  • Disabilities may impair an individual’s ability to perform tasks online. Optimizing online experiences for people with disabilities or who require assistive devices would enable more people to access the Commonwealth’s services.
  • Exercise care with word choices around illness and disabilities.


What it is:

Ageism is discrimination that favors people of a particular age group.

  • Use more neutral terms like “older” and “younger” rather than fixed terms such as “old” and “young.”
  • Don’t assume that everyone over a certain age is unable to use technology. Many people who began using the Internet in the early 1990s as 40-somethings are now 70-somethings with 30+ years of experience on the web.


Cissexism is discrimination that favors people whose gender assigned at birth matches the anatomy they were born with.

  • Use gender-neutral greetings. “guests,” “peers,” and “constituents” are all good alternatives.
  • Understand why you want specific data from forms and ask the correct question to get it. Asking for someone’s gender on a form doesn’t automatically mean that you’ll be able to infer what needs they may have based on their assumed anatomy because gender and anatomy aren’t necessarily related.


Classism is discrimination that favors people of a particular social or economic class.

Always be empathetic. While higher education levels do tend to unlock higher earning potential, it’s important to understand that generational wealth enables families to live in more secure neighborhoods, have access to better educational opportunities, and offer greater enrichment to their children at younger ages than those who do not have access to generational wealth. These advantages are cumulative over time.


Ethnocentrism is discrimination that favors people from a specific geographic area, region, or country.

  • Write as inclusively as possible, replacing “Christmas” with “Holiday season” since Hanukkah (Jewish), Kwanzaa (African-American heritage), Yule (Pagan), and Zarathosht (Zoroastrianism), as well as the Western New Year all occur toward the end of the year.
  • Check your assumptions about other countries and cultures.


Racism is discrimination that favors people with a specific skin color.

  • Racism isn’t found only in slurs. Consider language that suggests a power imbalance very carefully, and research common phrases to discover their etymology.


Sexism is discrimination that favors one sex over another.

  • Reframe gendered roles as gender-neutral, like “businessperson” or “mail-carrier.”
  • Assume either sex is able to do any job if they meet the requirements of the job description; but remember that financial mobility and opportunity have been very uneven for men and women, and continue to be to some extent.

Site visitors and users have different abilities

Part of accessibility is recognizing that our website users have different abilities. For example, we make sure that our websites are navigable using a keyboard alone, to accommodate those who don’t use a mouse. We also need to be conscious of what we assume about a user’s ability when it comes to the language we choose.

Using vision-related words such as “see,” “view” and “watch” (i.e., View the schedule) implies that the person is accessing the content with their eyes. 

However, our audience includes people with vision impairments who access our website in non-visual ways using assistive technology. 

To be more inclusive, consider using alternatives to vision-related words in links and other content.

Here are some alternatives to try:

  • Access (Access the schedule)
  • Check (Check current job openings)
  • Learn about (Learn about student resources)
  • Experience (Experience the webinar)
  • Catch up on (Catch up on the latest videos)
  • Explore (Explore upcoming events)

Gendered Language and Personal Pronouns

Not so long ago, students were taught that if they were discussing humans in general, or if they didn’t know the gender of their subject, to default to he/him pronouns. Instead of “people” or “humans,” people were taught that “man” is an acceptable, even preferred, substitute.

Today, it’s widely accepted that gender, anatomy, gender expression, and sexuality are continuums, and that each of those characteristics don’t necessarily correlate with each other in the way previous generations thought.

As a result, language around gender has developed to be more specific, granular, and personal.

Personal Pronouns

Regardless of any personal feelings on gender and gender expression, asking follow-up questions about why an individual uses specific pronouns is an unwarranted and disrespectful invasion of their privacy. Using preferred pronouns for everyone is an easy way for you, as a representative of the Commonwealth, to show respect to everyone.

Personal Pronouns

Using preferred pronouns for everyone is an easy way for you, as a representative of the Commonwealth, to show respect to everyone.

Write personal pronouns as one word:

  • herself
  • himself
  • themself (emerging usage as a non-binary individual pronoun)
  • themselves
  • yourself
  • yourselves

Write “no one” as separate words.