My do-do list!
Years ago when I began delivering training I followed the methods of the day, giving professionals lists of ‘bad’ words to avoid. Sadly, when doing a piece of research on respectful language, I found out that professionals felt confused by this and afraid to talk to disabled professionals. I have also been confused by ‘don’t say’ lists which left me fearful of conversations about racism, classism or homophobia. In many conversations recently, a number of non-disabled professionals I’ve spoken to also said they feel they can’t talk about disability because they don’t know what to say and they haven’t experience it. I do not experience racism, but I believe I’m part of the problem if I can’t articulate it adequately.
So this is my ‘do’ list, an attempt to respond to the comment “what can I say?!”
- Do talk about the size of disabled population, stressing vast numbers, huge inequality, lack of visibility and wide variation. This helps contradict the assumption that disabled individuals are few and far between. A separate group to those individuals facing sexism, racism, homophobia, religious intolerance, family and partners choices.
- Do highlight the disadvantage and inequality imposed on disabled people. Articulate professional identity separately, because respecting choice helps us focus on aaddressin discrimination in the workplace.
- Do make the assumption that to be visible a disabled professionals will have overcome huge barriers, in order to achieve the life goals many can take for granted.
- Do refer to D/deaf and Disabled People’s Organisations as a go-to for the articulation of the disabled population’s interests. Individual experience is just the first step, to address the institutional discrimination and systemic inequality in the workplace.
- Do refer to the societal and environmental aspects of disability discrimination – ableism – in exactly the same way as you would have a conversation about anti-racism or anti-sexism.
- Do state clearly that organisational culture, and more broadly society, denies many individuals their human rights, which is a cost to communities.
- Do ask colleagues what they need to participate. Before a conversation about reasonable adjustments is possible, it is always a good idea to ask easier questions about flexible working. A question any professional will feel able to answer allows disabled people the choice whether to disclose.
- Do ask about identity, when and if a professional relationship has been established. Disabled individual will have different words for experience, knowledge and wisdom on these issues – as do feminists. Allow for choice, and respect personal boundaries. Illness, impairment and difference, contrary to society’s storytelling, are private matters.
Read more – Accountability and Human rights