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“End the Awkward” - Disability and Diversity

Updated: Jun 30, 2023

Businesses have long been instrumental in social change and addressing global challenges. Diversity and inclusion is a key issue and progress is being made, albeit slowly, for people across, race, sexual orientation, and gender identities through strategies and initiatives referred to by acronyms D&I, EDI, IDEA or even JEDI. However, one aspect of difference that can intersect these identities is Disability. This complex category is an issue that is often neglected yet it is a characteristic that we all may one-day become a part of, either through accident, illness, or ageing.

According to a report from the Return on Disability Group 90% of companies claim to prioritize diversity, yet only 4% consider disability in those initiatives. This issue has been placed on the corporate agenda by Caroline Casey and the Valuable 500 campaign. It has been many years since comprehensive human rights legislation was ratified by the UN in 2006, and the UK Equality Act of 2010 provided legal protection from workplace discrimination. So, what is it that is preventing business from adopting a workplace culture that enables a wider range of talent, inclusive of those who require adjustments so that they can be their most productive self?

The global pandemic has pushed all of us to flex and adapt, to do things differently and change. This has been a period of accelerated learning and adjusting the way we do things. One of the key benefits of this has been to introduce new remote and flexible patterns of working, and this has created possibilities for attracting talent with a more diverse range of experience. Many of the adaptations provided were simple accommodations that disabled people had been requesting for a long time. The “Social model” disability theory recognises that it is the design of the world and its systems that is disabling, and not a person’s medical diagnosis. Businesses can be part of this social change.

The blocks to Disability Inclusion have stemmed from fears of getting it wrong, and personal vulnerability in having awkward conversations. As with many areas of Diversity, potential allies and champions are cautious of using the wrong language and being accused of unintentional bias. But this should not be the case. Yes, certain activists call-out insensitivities in terminology, tokenistic gestures, and people can be frustrated that change is slow. Yet direct action needs to be taken if your company wants to demonstrate that it truly sees the value in everyone. Within the disability community there is a mantra “Nothing about us, without us” and this is a key part of building an inclusive culture, welcome diverse talent into your team, and importantly be willing to listen, learn and change.

There are resources available to help demystify disability, consultants, training, and support from organisations. The Valuable 500 has a directory of resources for large global companies that have declared a commitment to close the disability divide within their business. In the UK the Business Disability Forum is a space where information, resources and support is available. Their knowledge hub ranges from an “Essentials” element which, free disability guidance and resources for business, to paid content for members. Guidance covers areas including advice and information around the law about disabilities, managing adjustments, disabled customers and accessibility.


Dr Jo Gooding (she/her) is an educator, researcher, and expert in design for disability. She is experienced in inclusive design, conducting research, mentoring entrepreneurs, and delivers reviews and workshops on Disability Inclusive Design for Business. She is co-founder of a consultancy supporting business in the adaptive fashion and clothing sector. If you would like to know more, please contact her at or through LinkedIn

D&I Diversity and Inclusion; EDI, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion; IDEA, Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility; JEDI, Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

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