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Diversity and inclusion in the workplace
Diversity and inclusion in the workplace

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1.2 Enhancing your awareness

A useful insight can be gained from understanding different models of disability. Disability Nottinghamshire (no date) explains the medical and social models as follows:

The medical model of disability says people are disabled by their impairments or differences, which should be ‘fixed’ or changed by medical and other treatments, even when the impairment or difference does not cause pain or illness.

The social model of disability says that disability is caused by the way society is organised, rather than by a person’s impairment or difference. It looks at ways of removing barriers that restrict life choices for disabled people.

Societal norms, and the medical model of disability can lead to ableism, defined by UCU (no date) as:

discrimination in favour of non-disabled people […] based on an assumption that the physical, cognitive and sensory differences with which disabled people live with are deficits, and […] that disabled people need to be ‘fixed’. It is manifest in physical, environmental and attitudinal barriers that exclude and stigmatise an entire group of people as ‘less than’.

A key aspect of ableism is the used of inappropriate, or ableist language.

Language and terminology

An area of uncertainty for many employers is language and terminology. If we don’t know how to say something correctly, we might choose not to say it at all.

Ableist language involves the use of negative stereotypes, phrases and assumptions that can impact negatively on disabled people. Many of them are common phrases and their impact is often unintentional. Examples include:

‘That’s so lame’ ‘ You’re a bit bi-polar today’ ‘She is crazy’ ‘He’s such a psycho’

‘He must be off his meds’ ‘I don’t think of you as disabled’ ‘She is so OCD’

(UCU, no date)

These types of comments are also microaggressions, which you’ll learn more about in Week 4.

Key advice is to avoid passive, victim words and to use language that respects disabled people as active individuals with control over their own lives.

GOV.UK (2021) provides useful guidance on inclusive language relating to disability, including the following table of words to use and avoid:

Table 2
Avoid Use
(the) handicapped, (the) disabled disabled (people)
afflicted by, suffers from, victim of has [name of condition or impairment]
confined to a wheelchair, wheelchair-bound wheelchair user
mentally handicapped, mentally defective, retarded, subnormal with a learning disability (singular) with learning disabilities (plural)
cripple, invalid disabled person
spastic person with cerebral palsy
able-bodied non-disabled
mental patient, insane, mad person with a mental health condition
deaf and dumb; deaf mute deaf, user of British Sign Language (BSL), person with a hearing impairment
the blind people with visual impairments; blind people; blind and partially sighted people
an epileptic, diabetic, depressive, and so on person with epilepsy, diabetes, depression or someone who has epilepsy, diabetes, depression
dwarf; midget someone with restricted growth or short stature
fits, spells, attacks seizures