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, several non-disabled professionals also said they feel they can’t talk about disability because they don’t know what to say and they haven’t experienced 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?!”

Cartoon of mole with a big green tick

Do talk about the size of the 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 people facing sexism, racism, homophobia, religious intolerance, family and partner choice.

Do highlight the disadvantage and inequality imposed on disabled people. Articulate professional identity separately, because respecting choice helps us focus on addressing discrimination in the workplace.

Do make the assumption that to be visible a disabled professional will have overcome huge barriers to achieve the life goals many can take for granted. 

Do refer to D/deaf and Disabled People’s Organisations as a reference for the interests of the disabled population. Individual experience is just the first step, the bare minimum, in the articulation of institutional discrimination and systemic inequality in the workplace.

Do refer to the societal and environmental aspects of disability discrimination – ableism – in 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, does not do enough to speak of the discrimination and inequality the disabled population are subject to – this failure to uphold human rights is ultimately a cost to all 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 most professionals can answer allows disabled people the choice of whether to disclose – or not. 

Do ask about identity, but allow individuals not to. This is far more respectful once a professional relationship has been established. Disabled individuals 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 

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