Fiona Kyle


July 13, 2022


How to Develop a Culture That’s More Disability-Inclusive

Under the 2010 Equality Act, you are considered disabled if you have a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial, long-term negative effect on your ability to do everyday activities. This covers a wide range of conditions including progressive conditions, cancer, a visual condition, dyslexia and autism.

With a spectrum as broad as this, people with disabilities may need different adjustments to help them to do their job to the best of their ability. However there are some things that every business can do to make sure that people with a disability feel as welcomed and supported as possible.

We take a look at how you can encourage disability inclusion in your workplace.

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Why disability inclusion is important

The ONS figures for 2021 showed the employment rate for disabled people is 28.8 percentage points lower than that for people who are not disabled–known as the disability employment gap. That’s a huge amount of talent that workplaces might be missing out on.

An inclusive workplace means not only employing people with disabilities but making sure they are represented at all levels. It goes beyond tokenism which does not create inclusivity and instead makes sure disabled colleagues have access to the same opportunity as everyone else and that their voice is heard.

Inclusion of any sort takes time and commitment from people throughout an organisation but the benefits far outweigh this. Not only do all your employees feel comfortable, confident and happy at work, inclusion brings benefits for your organisation too. From higher levels of staff engagement and retention to the increased profitability experienced by more diverse and inclusive companies, an inclusive approach benefits everyone.

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How to identify and address unconscious bias

Unconscious bias is a term that refers to when some one’s life experiences have resulted in them having a belief or view about other people which might not be correct or reasonable. This could be in their favour or otherwise, for example you may think better of someone because you believe them to be like you, or think less of someone because they’re different–in this case, they have a disability but it could refer to race, religion or age etc.

If you have false beliefs like these and are unaware of them, you could let them affect the decisions you make. If you become more aware of your unconscious bias, you can stop it from influencing you.

There are several proactive steps you can take to address unconscious bias in your workplace. Talk about it with your team, making sure they understand it and why they need to avoid it. If you think it would help, arrange unconscious bias training for your colleagues.

It can be particularly problematic during the recruitment process. To combat the effect of it, you could try:

  • advertising the job in different places so it’s seen by a diverse range of candidates;
  • carry out initial interviews by phone so the interviewer can’t make a decision based on physical appearance; and
  • keep a written record of why decisions are made throughout the process.

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Using the right language around disability

It’s important to remember that language changes over time, and terms relating to any area of diversity that may have been considered acceptable in the past may not be now. Review your employer communications and check if any terms used around disability are still considered inclusive–and, if it is no longer acceptable, it’s worth finding out why it has fallen out of favour.

Watch out for othering–the act of making someone feel like they do not belong, which often happens through the language that is used. If someone is othered it can make them feel like their colleagues see them as different and not part of the team which can lead to lower morale and social isolation.

The key to avoiding othering is by using inclusive language. Place the focus on the person rather than the disability by using the term ‘a person with a disability’ rather than ‘a disabled person’.  

Ableist language is an absolute no-no–this is any language that reinforces negative stereotypes about disabled people which can be very hurtful and suggest that they are different or less valuable than their non-disabled colleagues. Many people use this kind of language all the time without realising they are doing it or having any idea of the effect it might have. Think about the term ‘falling on deaf ears’, for example. It’s a commonly used phrase which is associated with wilful ignorance rather than actual deafness. There are so many examples that are used every day–think ‘turning a blind eye’, making a ‘dumb’ choice, being ‘so OCD’ and more. Be more aware of the language you’re using and examine the phrases you often fall back on to make sure they couldn’t have another meaning you hadn’t considered which could be hurting colleagues with disabilities–or any colleagues.

As language is always evolving, cutting out ableist terms will be an ongoing process. If you’re not sure about what could be hurtful, always ask and listen. You could do this through an employee focus group, bring together colleagues with disabilities to discuss with them the terms that they find hurtful or offensive and make sure everyone is aware.

Inclusive language in the workplace is important for many reasons. Not only does it show disabled colleagues that they are valued, it creates a more welcoming and inclusive environment for everyone.

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Interested to find out more about disability inclusion in the workplace? Read our overview here.



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