Writing for inclusivity

Australia is one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world so it's important to write for people from all backgrounds. You also need to consider literacy levels, gender, and those who use assistive technology.

Audience diversity

Understand the diversity of your audience. Write content that all users can read and understand.

Australia is one of the most culturally diverse countries

  • 27% of Australia’s 22 million people were born overseas.
  • 46% of Australians have at least 1 parent who was born overseas.
  • 3% of Australians identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander peoples.
  • 19% of Australians speak a language other than English at home.
  • 60% of Australia’s population growth in 2013 was from overseas migration.

Abilities and expectations of Australians vary

  • 18.3% of Australians live with disability affecting their daily activities.
  • 12.1% of Australians aged 35 to 44 live with disability.
  • 50.7% of Australians aged 65 and over live with disability.
  • 85.4% of Australians aged 90 and over live with disability.
  • 8% of males and 0.4% of females experience colour deficiencies (colour blindness).

Literacy levels for Australians aged 15 to 74 years:

  • 44% at literacy level 1 to 2 (a very low level)
  • 39% at level 3
  • 17% at level 4 to 5 (the highest level)

Numeracy levels for Australians aged 15 to 74 years:

  • approximately 55% at numeracy level 1 to 2 (a very low level)
  • 32% at level 3
  • 13% at level 4 to 5 (the highest level)

Disability, Ageing and Carers, Australia: First Results, 2015 contains statistics about disability in Australia.
Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies, Australia, 2011-2012 contains statistics about Australia’s literacy and numeracy levels.

Australia’s population is ageing

  • 14% of Australia’s population is over 65. It will rise to 18% by 2061.
  • 420,300 Australians are aged 85 years or over. It will rise to 3.5 million people by 2069.

Inclusive language and terms

Avoid discriminatory language that treats some people differently from others.

Worker — instead of workman

Business manager or business person — instead of businessman or businesswoman

Chairperson — instead of chairman or chairwoman

People with disability — not people with a disability, disabled or handicapped people

People with intellectual disability — not intellectually disabled

People who are deaf or have a hearing impairment — not unable to hear

People who are blind or have a vision impairment — not unable to see

Older people or seniors — not pensioners, old-age pensioners or the aged

Young people — not youth or juveniles

First Australians or Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples (note the plural) — not ATSI, Aborigines or Aboriginals

Avoid gendered pronouns

Rewrite the sentence to avoid using gender-specific singular pronouns (he/she, her/his, her/him).

Submit your employment declaration.                    

Every employee should submit his employment declaration.


Speak to the person, not their difference

Speak to the person in plain English without jargon. Don’t speak to their difference.

This avoids getting caught up in semantics and respects:

  • disability
  • cultural differences
  • differences in socioeconomic background
  • differences in educational levels and systems
  • generational differences
  • gender roles
  • perceptions of social and support concepts
  • political impacts on life events
  • pre/post-effects of wars
  • religious affiliations
  • values or philosophical differences.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples

The terms ‘First Australians’ and ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ (note the plural) include distinct and diverse cultural groups. These terms do not represent a homogenous group.

Aboriginals, Aborigine — these words are associated with colonisation and assimilation and are distressing to many people

ATSI — never use the acronym ATSI as this is considered disrespectful

Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians

Use the correct language group name if possible

The Ngunnawal woman spoke first.

We wish to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land we are meeting on, the Ngunnawal people.

The Australian Indigenous Languages Database from AIATSIS may help you identify the appropriate local language.

Use ‘First Australians’ or ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ (note the plural) if you are not sure of the local language group or are talking about multiple groups.

First Australian is not generally used in reference to an individual.


More than 1000 First Australians were employed through the program.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have distinct identities, histories and cultural traditions.


If appropriate you can use the terms ‘Aboriginal peoples’ and ‘Torres Strait Islander peoples’ on their own.


The Aboriginal flag was created as a symbol of unity and national identity for Aboriginal peoples during the land rights movement of the early 1970s.
Aboriginal Elder.

The Torres Strait Islander flag was created as a symbol of unity and identity for Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Torres Strait Islander child/woman/man.


Be careful using the word ‘Indigenous’

While it is Australian Government practice to refer to Indigenous Australians, this is not preferred by many First Australians.

Indigenous is the common term when referring to a business entity or business function.

Indigenous should always be capitalised.


Indigenous Specialist Officer

Indigenous Services Branch


Writing for First Australian audiences

Remember that English can be a second, third or even fourth language for many First Australians.

Guidance on how to write for First Australian audiences:

Writing cultural terms

Make sure of the context and relevance before using First Australian cultural terms.


First Peoples

On Country

Sorry Business

Men’s Business

Women’s Business

Traditional Owners or Traditional Custodians


There’s guidance on using First Australian cultural terms in the Communicating with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Audiences 2016 report.

Languages other than English

Make sure your content can be understood by someone who speaks English as a second, third or fourth language.

Content should also be culturally sensitive to people who come from different cultures and may have different expectations of dealing with government.

Resources to help the government meet the needs of multicultural users are available from the Department of Home Affairs.


Find out if there is a user need to provide the content in other community languages.

This can be important if there are compliance requirements or health and safety issues.

Identify the right languages

Research with users to find out which languages they need to read the information in.

Don’t just pick the top languages spoken at home, or another simple metric. These can be misleading about real user needs.

Plain English is easier to translate

Write the content in Plain English first. This makes it easier to translate, and to read when translated.

Translate the cultural context

Translating is not just about the literal words. It’s also about capturing the meaning of what you are communicating within the context of a culture.

Use an accredited translator

It is best practice to use an NAATI-accredited translator. Then ask another accredited translator to check it.

Make all formats accessible

Make sure the format of the translated content is accessible.

If there is a user need for a PDF of the translated content you must:

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