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10 tips for celebrating disability and avoiding tokenism

By Zara Todd, equity and inclusion expert.

Disabled people make up 20% of the population in the UK, however, disabled people are underrepresented in the social sector workforce, often being seen as beneficiaries rather than staff.  Many of the interviewees in the Hidden Leaders research highlighted the importance of representation and seeing people like you in the sector both in terms of disclosing your impairment/needs and seeing the social sector like somewhere that you want to work.

Since the report and its recommendations were published, lots of organisations have spoken to us about disability leadership and representation, and one of the recurring questions is: how can we celebrate disabled staff without it being tokenistic or superficial?

Here are top tips for avoiding disability tokenism or inspiration porn:

  • Remember that not all disabled people have visible impairments so when you’re celebrating disabled people don’t just celebrate those who look disabled. This can play into the hierarchy impairment and may actually make it harder for those with hidden impairments to disclose or talk about their experience of disability.
  • Recognise disabled staff’s lived and learned and intersectional experience. If a disabled member of staff wants to talk about disability, great. However, ensure they get opportunities to talk about other areas of expertise or interest.
  • Don’t assume because you know someone is disabled that they want to talk about it or that that identity is important to them.
  • In celebrating disabled staff celebrate their contribution rather than focusing on the support to achieve it. For example: someone’s guide dog might make a brilliant picture/story but your focus should be the person and not their assistant animal. If they want to talk about their dog that’s their choice, and they shouldn’t feel it’s necessary to have their story heard. Similarly it is not your responsibility to thank personal assistants or sign language interpreters for their work to support access.
  • Make sure that content you create celebrating disability and disabled staff is accessible. If it’s a podcast, do you have a transcript? Do images have ALT text? Do your videos have captions and BSL interpretation?
  • When you’re creating content, what imagery are you using? Are you only using  imagery that features disability when it’s content about  disability or diversity? If you find that you are always using the same images,  can you get some budget to build up your image portfolio? Do you have consent from the person pictured for the  image to be used that frequently?
  • If you need lived experience expertise acknowledge it. And where appropriate, remunerate.
  • Do you need people’s origin story? Allow people to create their own bios and blurbs. You may have invited someone to contribute because you know that they are a disabled person, but if they choose not to mention it don’t out them. Demonstrating diversity is as much about how someone feels they have been treated and respected as it is what the world perceives.
  • Support and signpost towards existing resources created by disabled people which can support non-disabled people to develop their understanding and allyship. So that disabled people have to do less to be in rooms and have to worry less about how their story and experience are going to be represented.
  • Finally, when you have started celebrating disabled people, reflect on who is being represented and amplified by the content you are sharing. Is it providing an intersectional understanding of lived experience with the disability? Is it showing the depth and diversity of the community?
Narrated by a member of the ACEVO staff

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