News - What’s the Word?

Author: ZAPP Team
Date: June 26, 2018

By: Joann Liu

While the ZAPP team doesn’t dictate show policies or event management, we do aim to infuse our work with relevant and progressive best practices. Part of that approach includes being able to communicate in a more inclusive way — something that aligns with the mission and vision of our parent organization, WESTAF (Western States Arts Federation). So when I got the opportunity to attend the workshop, A Word about Words: Language, Meaning, & Intent, with other arts administrators, museum professionals, volunteer coordinators, and artists from the Denver Metro Area and beyond, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to brush up on skills that can sometimes seem like no brainers!

For those of us who are managing multiple deadlines, projects, and even putting out a fire or two at work (read: all of us!), it’s not always easy to craft language that is mindful and inclusive. To help in that regard, I’ve highlighted some key takeaways from the workshop, which covered accessibility, labels, word connotations, and much more. I can’t possibly share everything I learned, but hopefully these tidbits are a beneficial resource that get your creative juices flowing while you think about your event, communications, and projects.



Access vs. Inclusion
Sometimes access and inclusion are thought of as being synonymous; however, the two are actually a bit different. For example, you can have diversity within an organization or within an event, but it can still be a space that is not inclusive. The idea of
providing access indicates that you are attempting to meet someone’s needs and affording the opportunity to be present. When it comes to making something — say a fair or festival — inclusive, the focus seems to shift more to the original intent of the project at the time it was created. Being inclusive allows the opportunity to identify who is missing from the equation and how one can give a voice to those who are not— but should be/could be— present. Since fairs and festivals are typically annual, recurring events, planning them affords the unique opportunity to reevaluate and create inclusive spaces each year!

Ability vs. Disability
From communicating with artists to patrons to volunteers and beyond, event administrators have a wide-ranging audience they work with to make their event successful. One important takeaway to help in navigating such communication is to be thoughtful and accepting of the ownership for specific labels that each individual may have.

Also, don’t be afraid to ask how a person would like to be addressed. For instance, one person may identify with the word “deaf” and another may prefer “person with hearing loss.”

Person First Language and the “art of the pivot”
The best practice for addressing any group of people is to use “person first” language. If an individual then asks to be addressed in a different way, pivot your language when talking to that individual to respect his/her preference.

A Few Rules of Replacement
There is no rule book that tells us what words should be used and what words can’t be used, but here are some generally accepted, respectful ones to consider.

When it comes to inclusion, there’s not a one-size-fits all approach. As mentioned earlier, part of being mindful and inclusive is accepting the labels that people are comfortable with. A good starting point is to plan your event from the get go with the intent of being inclusive in your communications, programming and even your location. If this remains at the forefront of your planning efforts, it will help guide your approach altogether.


Questions to consider
How can artists or volunteers who need special accommodations approach you? Is your response respectful and approachable? Are you, your staff, and your event prepared to meet special needs?

Does your event’s programming take place in locations that are inclusive?

Who is not represented at your event but should be?

Practicing inclusion will always be a work in progress, but feel empowered to demonstrate vulnerability— and a willingness to learn about others— to your staff, your artists, and your communities!


Interested in delving deeper? Check out these resources!
Accessibility ResourcesCheck out a variety of information and advocacy resources listed on WESTAF’s page.
Facing Change – Insights from the American Alliance of Museums’ Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion Working Group
Guidelines: How to Write and Report About People with Disabilities, 8th Edition
Race Equity Tool Glossary


The Art of Access Workshop was held at Redline in Denver, CO, a Contemporary Art Center that fosters education and engagement between artists and communities to create positive social change.

The Art of Access consists of employees from various cultural institutions, disability advocates, and other individuals. Their goal? To be the catalyst to connect and advance access and inclusion across Denver’s cultural organizations through professional development opportunities and resource sharing.

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