Skip to content

Instantly share code, notes, and snippets.

Embed
What would you like to do?
Ableist Language in Code: Sanity Check

Ableist Language in Code: Sanity Check

Removing ableist language in code is important; it helps to create and maintain an environment that welcomes all developers of all backgrounds, while emphasizing that we as developers select the most articulate, precise, descriptive language we can rather than relying on metaphors. Quite simply, avoiding ableist language lets us make sure we are inclusive of all developers, while moving toward language that is simultaneously more acccessible to developers whose first language might not be our own.

The phrase sanity check is ableist, and unnecessarily references mental health in our code bases. It denotes that people with mental illnesses are inferior, wrong, or incorrect, and the phrase sanity continues to be used by employers and other individuals to discriminate against these people.

There are a ton of alternatives, and one of the best ways to select one is to ask yourself: What am I actually checking? and select something more descriptive. In everyday conversation, we can simply drop the idiom completely and say something akin to Let's check to ensure everything is working.

If this doesn't help, consider one of these many alternatives. I'm prone to using the first two in my own code, though these are gleaned from many developers:

  • Quick check
  • Initial check
  • Confidence check
  • Coherence check
  • Soundness check
  • Calibration check
  • Rationality check

One to avoid? Health check. Along with again tieing in discussions of health and disability, this phrase already carries a lot of previous implications from other products that may obfuscate what you're actually trying to say.

@arichards-unity

This comment has been minimized.

Copy link

@arichards-unity arichards-unity commented Nov 13, 2019

I think Rationality Check is a great alternative, thanks!

@pelevesque

This comment has been minimized.

Copy link

@pelevesque pelevesque commented Jul 5, 2020

sanity check -> cleanliness check
sanitizer -> cleanitizer or cleaner

@paulirish

This comment has been minimized.

Copy link

@paulirish paulirish commented Aug 7, 2020

I've been using "Gut check" also, though admittedly it's a bit more vernacular

@richvle

This comment has been minimized.

Copy link

@richvle richvle commented Oct 7, 2020

I asked my wife to do a "sanity check" on a procedure I was doing the other day. She's doesn't know what that is, and thought I said "Sandy Check" because our friend Sandy (another software engineer) sometimes help me to check my work as well. So to avoid using ableist language, how about something that sounds like what we are familiar with, so it can easily be replace. And it has an easy story behind it.... like..... Sandy Check. I've submitted it to Urban Dictionary already and if it gets more regular usage, I can get it submitted to the Webster and Oxford dictionaries.

@micseydel

This comment has been minimized.

Copy link

@micseydel micseydel commented Nov 21, 2020

Thank you for sharing this!

@dkadish

This comment has been minimized.

Copy link

@dkadish dkadish commented Dec 3, 2020

Thanks for this! Just what I was looking for. Appreciate all of the alternative options!

@micseydel

This comment has been minimized.

Copy link

@micseydel micseydel commented Dec 3, 2020

Came across this later - "reality check" I think can be good too.

@seanmhanson

This comment has been minimized.

Copy link
Owner Author

@seanmhanson seanmhanson commented Dec 3, 2020

Came across this later - "reality check" I think can be good too.

@micseydel
This one I'll weigh in on. I'm close to some folks who experience hallucinations, and "reality check" is a rough phrase, since it comes from alienating people with Bipolar I mania, Schizoaffective, Schizophrenia, Narcolepsy, etc. I am totally grateful for the comment, because this one totally evaded my radar, and I am pretty sure when I wrote this gist, I was pretty unaware of these associations. Thanks for bringing it up! I may edit it into the original when I'm not on mobile, if that's okay!

@kaitlingee

This comment has been minimized.

Copy link

@kaitlingee kaitlingee commented Dec 3, 2020

I strongly advise against "Reality check", "Sanity check", and any variation of or play on "sanity/reality check" as it does, as @seanmhanson acknowledges, ostracize a population of people diagnosed with a real brain disease that, when untreated as is often the case, attacks their sense of reality/sanity through audio and visual hallucinations. I say this as someone who is close to an individual diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, which is just one example of a more severe subset of mental illness known as "serious mental illness".

It's great to see this thread coming back to life as folks become increasingly mindful of the language being used in everyday speech. Thank you for keeping the conversation going.

@kaitlingee

This comment has been minimized.

Copy link

@kaitlingee kaitlingee commented Dec 3, 2020

@richvle - I applaud you for taking initiative to submit a new entry in effort to get a new term to catch on, however I'm afraid this risks more harm and confusion than intended.

"Sandy check" is more likely than not problematic for two reasons:

  1. Most notably, it is a wordplay on the already problematic term "Sanity Check". A newer term with roots in a problematic term remains problematic. See my above comment and do let me know if you have questions!
  2. It's forcibly anecdotal. "Sandy check" is derived from a single individual's experience in having a "Sandy" to check their work, but it would be presumptuous to think that rest of the industry knows someone named "Sandy" to check their work, so it's more difficult for others to relate to.
  3. Lastly, because it sounds so close to "Sanity check", others who hear or rather, mis-hear "sandy check" are more likely to use, "sanity check," one of the problematic term from which we're trying to move away.

Would you be willing to remove the "Sandy check" entry from urbandictionary and anywhere else where it may have been published?

Thank you again for your efforts to help make the industry a more inclusive one!

@micseydel

This comment has been minimized.

Copy link

@micseydel micseydel commented Dec 12, 2020

@SeanHanson my thinking was that "reality check" would be nicer than "rationality check" because the first is checking in with something external, whereas the second one I would think would be more stressful for someone who is struggling with their internal stuff. Why would the latter be preferred? (Thanks for creating this by the way! I definitely want to learn what is best for folks.)

@gerardmarquina

This comment has been minimized.

Copy link

@gerardmarquina gerardmarquina commented Dec 19, 2020

Coherence check is a perfect replacement for when "sanity check" would be used for unit testing. I also thought about "Assertion check" but that becomes confusing with languages that have an "assert" feature.

Sign up for free to join this conversation on GitHub. Already have an account? Sign in to comment