Lost in translation: BDF launches global guide to disability language

New global language guide asks firms to talk about disability

The Business Disability Forum has launched a new global guide to disability language for businesses to mark the International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

Sponsored by HSBC, ‘Lost in translation: A global guide to the language of disability’ calls on businesses to break down barriers by engaging in conversations about disability at an individual and organisational level. The guide provides practical advice on reviewing and discussing language, and introducing positive change.

Challenges facing businesses

The guide recognises that many organisations may avoid discussions about disability even though disability affects one billion people worldwide. Fears around using the ‘wrong’ language, along with cultural differences, language barriers, and the ever-evolving nature of language, are some of the common challenges facing businesses – which too often means they say nothing.

Business Disability Forum believes that this is an issue that organisations need to tackle in order to be able to break negative stereotypes and create more inclusive workplaces, brands, and customer experiences.

The global guide

The guide draws on existing practice and research as well as feedback from Business Disability Forum’s Global Members and Partners and other global organisations. This included feedback from disabled people.

The guide offers businesses advice on:

  • Identifying barriers around language and communication at a global level.
  • Addressing common concerns about the use of disability-related language
  • Developing practical ways to involve customers and employees in discussing regularly reviewing language around disability. 
  • Considering the use of appropriate and respectful disability-related language in different situations and locations, recognising that one-size does not fit all.
  • Promoting the use of inclusive language in their brand guidelines and practices.
  • Knowing what to do when language offends.

Engaging disabled employees and customers

The new guide emphasises the importance of language in employee and customer engagement.

Diane Lightfoot, CEO of Business Disability Forum, said: “Businesses that want to engage with disabled people as customers and employees need to be ready to talk about disability, but we recognise that getting the language right can present challenges, especially within a global context.

“Disability language can be a very personal thing and is influenced by many factors, including culture, experience, and location. Language that works in one situation and place may not work in another. At the same time, organisations also need to think about how language is used within their brand. What message are they giving out to disabled people about their organisation’s values?

“With language constantly evolving, we know it can be difficult to know where to start. We hope our guide will point businesses in the right direction. It doesn’t set out to give a definitive answer. Rather, it encourages you to start a conversation with your customers and employees to develop a narrative together that works for you. The important thing is to be willing to start that conversation.”

Carolanne Minashi, Global Head of Inclusion at HSBC, said: “The language we use and the topics we discuss as an organisation matter. This report highlights the difficulty of getting disability language right for all individuals, markets and cultures. We cannot stop having these important conversations just because it’s hard. We need to ensure we are creating an inclusive culture that fosters diversity. This helps open up opportunities for everyone – our customers, colleagues and across our communities.

“This report is an excellent resource to encourage us to talk about disability more openly, something which can only be positive. I would like to thank Business Disability Forum and all those who contributed to its development for tackling this difficult, but extremely important, topic and for the clear and pragmatic advice it provides.”

Lost in translation: A global guide to the language of disability

Go to Business Disability Forum’s Knowledge Hub for further information and to access ‘Lost in translation: A global guide to the language of disability’.

Business Disability Forum has also officially launched its Disability Smart Awards 2023 today. The awards recognise best practices and business innovation around disability inclusion across 13 categories, including inclusive communication. The awards are free to enter and are open for nominations.

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