Below are a few tips on how we can be more open when discussing disability inside and outside the workplace.
- Be careful with collective terms. Disability is a unique term as it includes 'dis' which has a negative connotation. 'Differently abled' was previously seen as a more positive term however it does not accurately describe the experiences of all people with disabilities. Unfortunately 'disability' is the most universally understood term at present. It is best to use ‘people with disabilities’ as a collective term as ‘the disabled’ is seen as offensive. Also remember that when we talk about disability we are referring to a very broad range of people and conditions including physical & hidden disabilities, neurodiversity and long term medical conditions. It therefore may be more appropriate to reference a specific groups, i.e. people with epilepsy, people with mental health conditions etc. Also avoid using the phrase 'able-bodied' and instead use 'non-disabled'.
- Avoid negative language. Ensure you avoid saying 'they suffer from dyslexia' or 'they are confined to a wheelchair'. Apart from being a negative way of describing conditions it also suggests that the person may be in pain or hampered in some way when this might not be the case. Many people use adaptation to live very full lives and may not consider themselves disabled. Instead say 'they have dyslexia' or 'they are a wheelchair user'.
- Be careful about using outdated terms. This is a challenge across all characteristics but don’t let it stop you having conversations on these topics. The best thing to do is to do your own research, listen and be led by the labels people use for themselves. If you make a mistake just apologise and move forward. Please remember that we are all learning together.
- Don't panic. Ultimately, you should speak to and about people with disabilities in the same way you would anyone else. If you are not sure ask questions politely and respectfully. But don’t ask questions that you would not ask people who don't have disabilities.
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For further information about diversity and inclusion at DWF contact Tamsin McCarthy