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Awareness dates, Call to action, Opinion piece

Talking about disability

3 December. International Day of Person with Disabilities. Find out what we're doing to celebrate this day at Image of globe.Diane Lightfoot, CEO, Business Disability Forum 

Too often, people think of disability as the aspect of diversity and inclusion that is too difficult, too sensitive, too political to talk about – and so avoid it altogether. But disability is part of the human condition – it can and will affect us all whether directly or through our friends and family. And talking about it really doesn’t have to be difficult. 

If you are thinking about disability, perhaps you are thinking about wheelchair users and physical access. And that’s important because there are too many places and spaces where people with conditions affecting their mobility just can’t go. But the term disability is very broad. It encompasses mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety, dyslexia, Autism and other neurodiverse conditions, sensory conditions and long-term conditions such as MS, Diabetes, HIV, and cancer. Over 90 per cent of disabilities are not immediately visible, so you probably already work alongside many more disabled people than you realise. 

Disability is also about valuing talent, strength and difference. People who bring different lived experiences and different perspectives bring better problem solving, better decision making, greater creativity and innovation and, ultimately, better products for your customers. Yet too many people are worried about the stigma of talking about their condition and asking for the support they need. In our Great Big Workplace Adjustments Survey in 2019, we found that 34 per cent of disabled people didn’t ask for an adjustment which would have helped them because they were worried that they would be treated differently. That’s over a third of disabled employees who weren’t as productive or as happy as they could be at work.  And that’s why it is so important to talk about disability and to use moments in time to start a conversation about disability, about difference, about each of our own unique humanity. 

If you are reading this, you can make a difference. You can make a difference in the conversations you have at work, with your colleagues and with customers. You can make a difference at home, with family and friends. You don’t have to be an expert. For customers, all it takes is to simply say “how can I help?”. For colleagues, asking “what do you need to do the best possible job?” And if someone is struggling or communicates or doesn’t react in the way that you are expecting, taking a step back and asking yourself: “is there something else going on?”. That’s often all it takes to start the journey to putting the right support in place. 

If this has prompted you to think more about disability in your organisation, speak to us about becoming a Member of Business Disability Forum. 

We’ve created a Disability Essentials range – a collection of resources which contains essential, free disability guidance and resources for business, and links to additional content which is available to BDF Members only. Guidance covers areas including advice and information around the law about disabilities, managing adjustments, disabled customers and accessibility.

And if you are a Partner or Member of Business Disability Forum, we are here to help! Use us, talk to us, come to us, share with us. We’d love to hear what you are doing – and we are here to support you every step of the way.


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