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How should we discuss disability at work? New guide from BDF

The Business Disability Forum (BDF) has released a new guide detailing the language employers and workers should use when discussing disability in the workplace.

The HSBC sponsored guide, Lost in translation: A global guide to the language of disability, encourages companies to breakdown stigma that exists around disability by engaging in meaningful conversations at organisational and individual level.

Within the guide is advice on using more inclusive and appropriate language in the office and on promotional materials, developing practical ways to include employees and customers in discussions around language, and what to do when language unknowingly causes offence.

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Diane Lightfoot, CEO of the BDF, highlighted the importance of using the right language when it comes to discussing disabilities.

She said: “Disability language can be a very personal thing and is influenced by many factors including culture, experience and location. Language that works in one situation and place may not work in another. At the same time, organisations also need to think about how language is used within their brand. What message are they giving out to disabled people about their organisation’s values?"

One example from the guide is to avoid using phrases that have negative connotations for disabled people, such as ‘to turn a blind eye’ or ‘it fell on deaf ears’.

Another is to avoid asking an employee to "disclose" their disability, instead asking them to “tell us if you have a disability or condition” or simply ask if people need an adjustment.

Lightfoot added: “With language constantly evolving, we know it can be difficult to know where to start. We hope our guide will point businesses in the right direction. It doesn’t set out to give a definitive answer but that is the point.

"Rather, it encourages you to start a conversation with your customers and employees to develop a narrative together that works for you. The important thing is to be willing to start that conversation.”

In October 2022, the government announced a £6.4 million plan to launch an online help service to help employers better support disabled people and those with health conditions at work.

Carolanne Minashi, global head of inclusion at HSBC, added: “The language we use and the topics we discuss as an organisation matter. This report highlights the difficulty of getting disability language right for all individuals, markets and cultures. We cannot stop having these important conversations just because it’s hard. We need to ensure we are creating an inclusive culture that fosters diversity. This helps open up opportunities for everyone – our customers, colleagues and across our communities.

“This report is an excellent resource to encourage us to talk about disability more openly, something which can only be positive. I would like to thank Business Disability Forum and all those who contributed to its development for tackling this difficult, but extremely important topic and for the clear and pragmatic advice it provides.”