In New South Wales (opens an external site) discrimination on the basis of age is one of many types of discrimination against the law. UTS is committed to ensuring the elimination of any discrimination or harassment in employment, education and service delivery on the grounds of age.
Age and ability
Age is no indicator of a person’s ability to learn and/or teach, and many older people are highly productive members of the university and broader communities, bringing to those communities valuable years of experience and accumulated knowledge.
Older Australians do not form a homogeneous constituency, and it is difficult to draw conclusions about a segment of the population as diverse as any in Australian society. Nonetheless, negative assumptions about the productive capacities and energies of older people, particularly in the university setting, are commonplace but unfounded. Older people have enhanced cognitive and social capacity to engage in all manner of teaching and learning deliveries, and they also bring a wealth of life experiences to the teaching and learning environment.
Age discrimination, also known as ageism, targets older people, who also experience the ageist language that is widespread and commonplace in popular speech. Being old has rarely had good press in English-speaking cultures, and stereotypes about age tend to reinforce the distinction between youth (who are assumed to remain eternally young and omnicompetent) and older people (who are assumed to have become incompetent and bothersome). It is also often assumed that all older people share the same interests and opinions on account of their age. For example, older people are often portrayed stereotypically as conservative, unbending in their opinions, and unwilling to work with or respect the views of young people.
Terms to avoid
Some examples of non-inclusive language about older people are:
Gran or Gramps; Old woman / old man
These are patronizing and sometimes derogatory terms for older people
Past it; Over the hill; Washed up; Gone to seed; Gone to pot; Past her/his prime
These terms suggest that older people no longer have the capacity to work
It is inappropriate to refer to people in the teaching and learning environment by this term.
Other examples of non-inclusive language include trivializations along age lines, such as ‘She’s done an amazing job for a person her age’ or, ‘Despite his age, he has a grip on these technological advances’. These expressions reinforce the idea that older people who do work productively are oddities or exceptions to the rule. Appropriately inclusive expressions would be: ‘She’s done an amazing job’ and, ‘He understands these technological advances’.
It is good practice to avoid stereotypical language about older people and language that sets them apart from the rest of the population. Whenever possible refer to the person by name, and without mentioning their age unless it is the appropriate topic of discussion.
In teaching and learning environments, the age range of students can be wide, and mature-age students are usually defined as people 25 years of age and above. Even ‘young’ people in their twenties or thirties may experience discriminatory language that excludes them from the younger majority of the student cohort.
Sources and further reading
Equal Opportunity Unit, 2005. Watch Your Language: Guidelines for Non-discriminatory Language. University of Melbourne: Melbourne.
Online paper (opens an external site) (pdf, 36 pages)
La Trobe University, 1992. Guidelines for Using Non-Discriminatory Language, Bundoora.
Maggio, R., 1991. The Bias-free Wordfinder: A Dictionary of Non-Discriminatory Language, Beacon Press, Boston.
New South Wales Seniors Media Network Council, 1994. Language and Older People: A Guide to Ageism in Language, Good and Bad Usage, Outmoded Stereotypes and Representing Reality, NSW Seniors Media Network Council, Sydney.
Pauwels, A., 1991. Non-Discriminatory Language, AGPS, Canberra.