How to Use Inclusive Language for Image Titles and Tags

Learn how we approach photo tagging at Noun Project and get tips for implementing inclusive language in your work.
Image of Grey Haired Woman Smiling Into Camera as an Example of Inclusive Language for Image Tags and Titles

Grey haired woman smiling in office by Winnie Vinzence
*see footnote for inclusive language tag examples for this photo

At Noun Project, we believe images have the power to shape, reinforce, and change perceptions. Our global community of contributors is building the most diverse and extensive collection of icons and mission-driven photos on the web, and each image on our platform is hand-curated for quality and subject matter. 

Over 90% of the images on Noun Project that depict people feature individuals from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds. Inclusive imagery challenges harmful stereotypes and promotes equality, ensuring that everyone can see themselves reflected in the media we’re surrounded by each day. As part of our commitment to diversity and inclusion in visual language, we have extremely high standards for the tags and titles that appear alongside the images in our collection. Our curation team constantly evolves our internal guidelines to ensure we consistently use the most up-to-date and appropriate language across our platform. 

We’ve created this inclusive language guide for image tags and titles to illustrate the importance of using appropriate terms, provide an overview of our process, and share resources you can use for your own work. 

Excited child holding hands out with finger paint on them, by Denis Kuvaiev
Appropriate DEI Tags: girl, female, child, 0-09 years, disability, Down syndrome, white person

What are Image Tags and Titles?

Tags are descriptive keywords that appear alongside an image and describe the types of people, places, objects, and locations in a photo. Adding tags to a photo makes that image searchable so that users can easily find the content they need for projects. This is advantageous for photographers because tags help their images surface on web searches or through searches on platforms like Noun Project, which ultimately means more downloads and sales. 

An image title is a phrase that clearly describes a photo. At Noun Project, the title of an image becomes part of the search experience. For Noun Project content, tags and titles must be as specific and inclusive as possible to help users looking for photos find, download, and use the perfect images for their projects.

Older Black woman laughing at outdoor table from Centre for Ageing Better
Appropriate DEI tags: woman, female, adult, 60 – 69 years, Black person, BIPOC, WOC, older, mature

Why are Inclusive Tags and Titles Important? 

Language can help shape culture and affect perceptions – and words are especially powerful when paired with imagery. Diverse, equitable, and inclusive (DEI) language is respectful, sensitive to differences, and avoids negative, outdated, and offensive expressions that promote biases and prejudice. By using appropriate and thoughtful language for tags and titles, we can help create an environment where people feel valued, welcomed, and understood. 

Noun Project customers typically search for images that feature diverse groups of people and, to date, 69% of the top-selling images on our platform include people that have traditionally been underrepresented in media. Having accurate DEI tags helps customers find the images they need. DEI image tagging also helps visually impaired users who rely on screen readers understand the content of images. 

Transgender woman smiling at phone (L) by Suzanne Strong
Appropriate DEI Tags: woman, female, adult, 20-29 years, 30-39 years, LGBTQIA, transgender woman, white person, Zimbabwean

Man with prosthetic leg speaking at conference (R) by Suzanne Strong
Appropriate DEI Tags: man, male, adult, 20-29 years, 30-39 years, Black person, BIPOC, prosthetic, disability, amputee, single leg amputee, prosthesis

How Should Photographers Use Inclusive Language for Tags and Titles?

As language changes and evolves, it’s important to stay informed about current inclusive language standards.  Before tagging and titling photos, seek out resources from communities that will be represented in the images for insights and guidance.  

Be honest and have direct conversations with your models. Ask how they identify and how they would like to be represented – do not make assumptions. Language that refers to age, race, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, gender, relationships, and disabilities should be based on facts and the model’s preferences. 

The most important thing to remember is to be considerate with your language, welcome guidance when corrected, and continually seek to expand your understanding of inclusive, DEI- focused language.

While not an extensive or comprehensive list, here are some examples of inclusive language to use in image tagging:

*Note: These examples reflect U.S. standards  as of 2024. Identifying language is very personal and there are many perspectives around acceptable terminology. We encourage photographers to ask their models how they identify and what terminology they would like associated with the images they are depicted in.

Ok to Use:Do Not Use:
AGE
older adult
older woman
older man
older
mature
senior
senior citizen
elderly
elder 
aged
old
active
retired
If the model is 18 and over:

woman 
man
If the model is 18 and over, do not use:

girl
boy 
Ok to use if model is 17 and younger:

girl 
boy 
PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES
Specify the disability according to the model’s preferred terms and use person-first language:

person with a disability
woman with multiple sclerosis
child or person with intellectual disability
disability 
special
handicapable
handicapped
invalid
visually impaired
person with low vision
person with limited vision
blind
person who uses a wheelchair
wheelchair user
deaf
deaf person
RACE/ETHNICITY
For people of Asian descent, specify as much as possible, for example:

East Asian: Includes Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Mongolian, Tibetan, and Taiwanese

Southeast Asian: Includes Burmese, Cambodian, Filipino, Hmong, Indonesian, Laotian, Malaysian, Mien, Singaporean, Thai, and Vietnamese

South Asian: Includes Bangladeshi, Bhutanese, Indian, Nepali, Pakistani, and Sri Lankan.
BIPOC
WOC
POC
minority
biracial
multiracial
multi-ethnic (if used in relation to a group of people)
diverse group (for a group of people)
mixed race
mestiza
BlackAfrican American (not every person who is Black is also American)
whitecaucasian
Latinx
Latino
Latina
Latine
Hispanic(can use country of origin if known, for example: Mexican for someone from Mexico)
brown
People of Indigenous Descent (use Indigenous as an umbrella term, then use the names of specific nations, if known) for example:

Native American 
Alaska Native
American Indian
First Nations (Canada)
Sami (Sweden)
Maya (Guatemala & Mexico)
Hmong (Cambodia)
Ainu (Japan)
Maori (New Zealand)
Indian (unless the person is from the country of India)
Aboriginal
Native
Eskimo
Arab
Middle Eastern
Northern African
MENA
SEXUAL ORIENTATION
LGBTQIA+
LGBTQ 
gay
lesbian
queer
homosexual
GENDER
trans
transgender man
transgender woman
transgender person
nonbinary person
transgender (do not use as a noun, however it is ok to use as an identifier tag)
BODY TYPE
higher-weight
plus size
large
body-positive
overweight
fat
heavy
obese

Noun Project’s DEI Tagging Practices

We regularly evaluate and update our tagging standards as DEI language evolves over time to ensure the inclusive language we use is current. Noun Project has also worked with DEI experts and formulated an approach that easily flexes with changing cultural norms. 

When tagging images of individuals and groups that have been historically marginalized, we don’t make assumptions about a person’s age, race, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, gender identity, relationships, or disabilities and encourage models to self-identify. We ask, listen to, and apply terms preferred by the individuals in the photos.

The most critical step of our process is that our content curation and moderation team carefully reviews all submitted images, ensuring that any antiquated terminology is replaced with modern, inclusive language that aligns with DEI principles and that images don’t uphold stereotypes.

Two women lying down embracing on bed, one kissing the other’s forehead by Suzanne Strong
Appropriate DEI Tags: woman, female, adult, 30-39 years, LGBTQIA+, gay, queer, lesbian, wives, partners, BIPOC, WOC, biracial, white person

Resources

As you implement inclusive language in your own work, we’ve compiled this list of resources you can use as references to help you get started. 


*Header image:
Grey haired woman smiling in office by Winnie Vinzence
Appropriate DEI tags: woman, female, adult, adult, 50-59 years, 60-69 years, Asian, BIPOC, older, mature, grey hair


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Suzanne Strong
Suzanne Strong

Creative Director for Photos at Noun Project and Photographer

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