About Language - Access to Justice


About Language

Throughout this document, where appropriate, we use gender-neutral terms such as “they” and “their” in place of gender-binary terms such as “he” or “she.” This is part of Access Living’s commitment to the evolving self-identification language options as voiced by the LGBTQIA+ community.

Readers also will also notice a mixed use of person-first disability and identity-first disability language; sometimes we will talk about “people with disabilities” as a general group and at other times we may use the general phrase “disabled people” or “disabled person.” This reflects the evolving nature of how we who live with various disabilities choose to identify ourselves. For some members of our community, person-first language is extremely important; for others, identity-first language critical. As a cross-disability group, Access Living respects and includes all points of view.

Language is similarly important in the criminal justice field. The word “offender” suggests that anyone in the justice system is guilty and has been convicted of an offense. Increasingly, through exoneration and pardons, it is clear that not all people accused or convicted are guilty of a criminal offense. Alternative language includes “justice-involved” and “people impacted by the criminal justice system.” When referring to people returning from incarceration, some prefer “returning citizens;” others believe this phrase may fail to capture those who are not citizens but may legally be in the United States. The terms “people returning from incarceration” and “formerly incarcerated” avoid any ambiguity. Using the term “people” in any descriptor has the value of underscoring that those in the justice system are, first and foremost, people.

Likewise, the phrase “people of color” is used throughout this document. This phrase is frequently referred to describe members of non-white groups who have experienced marginalization and disenfranchisement. This phrase emphasizes the shared common experiences of systemic racism in the United States and includes a vast array of racial and ethnic groups that form alliances and work together to combat racism inflicted upon them and their cultures. This phrase is commonly used in social justice, civil rights and human rights contexts.[1] Within this document we refer to a specific race at times to detail an individual’s or a specific group’s experiences, such as when we point to the historically disproportionate number of black people incarcerated in the United States.[2]