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01 November 2020

Creating a culture of inclusion.

This story is part of the Inclusive employment series. 

Creating a culture of inclusion is everybody’s responsibility. Studies show that employees are more productive and happier when they are supported and encouraged to bring their true and authentic selves to work.

What that means to each individual is a personal thing. Some disabilities such as psychosocial disabilities are invisible. Those people may choose to be “out” at work or not. Many people with a disability are fearful of being treated differently. Some people are happy to talk about their disability openly and others prefer to avoid it.

An inclusive workplace is one where people treat each other with respect and consideration, where every individual feels comfortable in their own skin and has equal opportunities to contribute, thrive and progress their career goals.

Man in a uniform at a workplace smiling at the camera

10 tips for workplace etiquette.

  1. A wheelchair or other mobility aid is a part of a person’s personal space. Do not touch it without permission.
  2. You should offer to shake hands with a person with disability even if they have limited use of their hands/arms or an artificial limb. If you cannot shake hands, be sure to speak to the person and offer a friendly smile.
  3. Be patient with anyone who has difficulty speaking. If you do not understand what they are saying, do not pretend you understand. Instead, ask them to repeat it or communicate it in a way that is comfortable for them.
  4. Always ask before offering to help.
  5. Avoid unnecessary touch that you would not use for any other colleague such as patting on the shoulder.
  6. If the employee has a service dog, the dog is there as a worker, not a pet. Do not talk to, feed or pat the dog. Speak to the handler, not the dog.
  7. Take care with your wording. Unless the person starts the conversation, or indicates they are comfortable speaking about it, do not ask about their disability.
  8. Do not speak in a condescending way or treat the person as if they are a child.
  9. Be humble and prepared to make mistakes. You won’t always get it right. If you are unsure how to address a person or what their needs are, ask them. They will probably appreciate your candour.
  10. Avoid using terms like brave, courageous and inspiring.

Finally, if a colleague has confidentiality spoken with you about their disability, you are obliged to honour that confidentiality both within and outside of the workplace.

Using inclusive language.

Use person-first language that focuses on the person, not the disability. Also, avoid negative terms.

Avoid               Disabled person

Preferred         Person with disability

Avoid                Blind person

Preferred          Person with vision impairment

Avoid                Mentally disabled person

Preferred          Person with a mental health condition

Avoid                Special needs

Avoid                Slow

Preferred          Learning disability/difficulty

Avoid               Non-disabled

Avoid               Able bodied

Avoid               Normal

Preferred         Person without disability

Avoid               Invalid

Avoid               Handicapped

Avoid               Wheelchair bound

Avoid               Confined to a wheelchair

Preferred         Person who uses a wheelchair

Use inclusive language for facilities and signs

Avoid               Disabled toilets/parking

Preferred         Accessible parking, accessible toilets

Some people with disability embrace specific terms as part of their identity. It’s important to ask each individual what they prefer.

Employee awareness and training.

Disability awareness training can be beneficial for educating managers and staff on a variety of issues associated with disability as well as gaining insights into creating a more inclusive workplace. It can help your team identify barriers and opportunities for improvement.

Depending on the nature of disabilities in your workplace, staff may also benefit from deaf awareness training or sign language training.

Free disability awareness training is available for businesses that partner with the National Disability Coordinator which helps larger employers access the skills and talents of people with a disability.

Career progression.

A truly inclusive workplace offers all employees equal opportunities to progress towards identified career goals. People with disability have career aspirations and goals like any other employee and need assurance they can openly identify as having a disability without it negatively affecting their opportunities or career progression.

It’s not only the law to ensure there is equal opportunity for career progression but it may be beneficial to your business to invest in supporting employees to engage in continued learning and development.

On the job training, formal training, mentoring, coaching and offering more challenging projects can all develop new capabilities and help identify potential.

The Disability Leadership Institute recognises the imbalance in the representation of people with diverse abilities in leadership roles and offers an ongoing program of resources, training and connection for organisations and their staff. There’s also a dedicated program to support people with disability who have leadership aspirations to build their leadership skills.


For more information about inclusive employment, check out our Inclusive employment page or download the full version of the free Leap in! ebook, Inclusive employment: A comprehensive guide for creating a culture of inclusion for disabled people in your organisation.

The information provided here is general in nature only and does not constitute business financial or legal advice. The information has been prepared without taking into account your business objectives, financial situation or needs. Before acting on any of this information, you should consider the appropriateness of the information having regard to your business objectives, financial/legal situation and needs.