Diversity Digest

Diversity & Inclusion at King's College London

#WomenofKings: Kyla Jardine

To celebrate Women’s History Month and #WomenofKings, we have invited Kyla Jardine (News & Events Manager  for Arts & Humanities, Social Science & Public Policy) from our Gender Equality Network, Elevate  to reflect on the launch event, the wonderful speakers and what we have to look forward to. 

Elevate exists to provide a formal networking platform for professional services staff at King’s. The Network aims to address and challenge issues of gender inequality at King’s, providing an integral platform for staff to share their experiences and by informing KCL policy and strategy.

Elevate’s aim is to empower staff to reach their potential through events, mentoring and training, and to act as a community who provide support both personally and professionally to one another.

Elevate is inclusive to all individuals and specifically addresses the challenges and barriers faced by those who identify as women and as non-binary; staff can join in this capacity, or as an ally.

When we decided to launch on the eve of International Women’s Day, we wanted to host an event that would be both insightful and useful and reflected the diversity of our staff at King’s.

For our panel discussion on, ‘How to Find Your Own Leadership’, we wanted to demonstrate that leadership exists at every level and grade within an organisation, especially one as complex and varied as King’s, and that paths to leadership can be more than achieving an executive or senior role.

It was also important for us to connect with King’s other networks, and our panellist reflected this breadth of experience and interests.

Our speakers were:

It was a pleasure to have Tessa Harrison, Director of Students & Education officially launch Elevate as our senior sponsor and an advocate for our cause.

She rounded out her speech by displaying and iterating some core leadership attributes: understanding how our own social privilege can create blind spots and knowing that every person has something of value to offer:

I learned something about the importance of recognising my privileges – I recognised with some discomfort that to some I am no different to the very privileged white men who have been the butt of my endless challenges over the years. It’s an uncomfortable truth that each generation becomes unreconstructed in the face of the next generation.

So, my ask of all of you engaging in this new network is to be kind to each other as you start working through the issues and ideas that each of you have.

Over the course of the evening, we explored what leadership means, shared advice for aspiring leaders, and looked at how we can navigate challenges. We also discussed how to access support and opportunities within the College, including the importance of becoming an active member of King’s networks, like Elevate.

Afterwards, we all enjoyed the opportunity to meet and chat over drinks, surrounded by the stunning exhibition ‘Visualising the Margins: Gendered Perspectives’ in The Exchange.

Thank you to everyone who supported the launch and has become a member of the network so far. Don’t forget to tell your colleagues and sign up to our newsletter to keep up to date with our ongoing activities, including our upcoming event on the 4th April. Stay tuned for details.

Kyla Jardine, Elevate Committee Member

#WomenofKings: Sarah Guerra

I’ve said it before, and I hope to be able to say it always! I love my job. The last week culminating in International Women’s Day, March 8th, has been such a buzz. I have had myriad opportunities to reflect, listen and learn about women’s equality.

I started last week sharing a platform with the amazing Ihron Rensberg, former Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of Johannesburg, leading an inclusive leadership session for on personal power and influence in a volatile world with King’s Senior Management Team. The middle of the week was co-hosting the D&I and Global Institute of Women’s Leadership International Women’s Day Inclusivity at King’s event and last night we launched Elevate, the new King’s Gender Equality network.  Sadly I wasn’t there as I had a long-standing night booked out with my own personal ‘network’ – 9 women who I count as sisters and my mum.

Fittingly enough we were at the theatre seeing 9-5 – Dolly the musical.  

Then on Sunday I watched RBG, a lively documentary about Ruth Bader Ginsberg, the US Supreme Court Justice, whose work transformed the legal landscape for women.  All through this I have been reading Michelle Obama’s Becoming – which has provided a daily dose of wisdom and inspiration as well as reducing me to tears on every commute. If you haven’t read it, stop everything NOW and go buy it.

Last week I opened the Inclusivity at King’s event with a passage from Ms O – page 284 for those interested. The event featured many, many amazing #womenofkings (check it out on twitter or on our intranet) on the platform and in the audience. The two that impacted me most were Professor Funmi Olonisakin, King’s Vice Principal (International) and Tessa Harrison, Director of Students and Education.

Funmi combined her academic field of expertise with personal insight to inspire women in the room, while Tessa shared incredibly honest and personal reflections about her own struggles to come to terms with how her feminism is perceived. The entire room showed what really listening to each other with a willingness to learn can do and how that can help us deal with our 21st century equality challenges. The event closed with me getting the thrill of sharing a platform with Julia Gillard as she talked through why we  as a society would want to do the right thing for diversity. Now that was a real career high!

My thoughts really crystallized watching 9-5.  For those unfamiliar it is a musical based on a film that features 3 female office workers and their male chauvinist pig boss. It was originally made in 1980 and is on at the Savoy Theatre now. Some might think it’s a parody, it is funny and light but also incredibly uncomfortable to watch and realise that this was the reality for many women. These 3 women each compete with and snipe at each other – resenting and judging each other for looks or status while all being demeaned, diminished and held back by their boss and work place standards.

I was a teenager in the 80s. Many of my friends that I was at the theatre with were young women in the workplace in the 80s, as obviously was my mother. They all recognised the play as being what was normal then. We reflected that we are grateful that in many places that things have changed. Watching RBG provided further evidence of how far we have come  – as a result of so many fighting so meticulously and vehemently to get here! We can take heart that looking back it really is unbelievable what the norms were, and I wonder what my daughters (26, 24, 15 and 12) will think when they look back on this time? What will they will find scary, hilarious or unbelievable?  However, testimony at our own International Women’s day event tells us we haven’t yet reached nirvana – women at King’s still experience gender-based discrimination, making it hard to make our lives work so we can succeed professionally and balance our other commitments.

Putting Michelle Obama, Ihron Rensberg, IWD, 9-5  and RBG together, I have been inspired by how positive people have been about King’s and the many practical suggestions. I have been reminded that to make change we need to follow Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s lead of working step by step and see the big picture and we need to start with ourselves.  We must understand our own identity, we must think about what we want and how to get there. We must recognise how we have been socialised, what privileges we carry, which ones we acquire. This takes work. This can be uncomfortable and scary. 9-5 reminded me that I have had to work hard to shake off a learned behaviour of judging other women (and myself) by the way they look, by other’s opinions of them, that these  tropes are patriarchal norms that I have absorbed. These breed unhealthy competition, they breed fear and suspicion – yet when we open our minds and our ears, when we listen respectfully and reflect and work collectively, collaboratively we achieve so much more.

I ended the Inclusivity at King’s event urging people in the room to be vocal and demanding. We here at King’s, women in the UK, in London experience some challenges but we have also achieved so much progress in gender equality but that isn’t consistent at King’s and it certainly isn’t something women everywhere enjoy. Change comes when we notice and agitate. Lets all play our part in making the world a better place with by never settling for less than we are worth. As my pal Michelle says, “Do we settle for the world as it is, or do we work for the world as it should be?”

When in doubt – ask what Michelle Obama would do!

#WomenofKings: Em Flemming

To celebrate International Women’s Day and #WomenofKings, we have invited the panelists who will be speaking at our Elevate – Gender Equality Network launch, to reflect on finding their own leadership. Em Flemming, one of our Parents & Carer’s Network chairs, speaks about leadership as having a vision of success AND a strategy for everyone to be able to be part of it.

I never planned on finding myself in an official position of leadership, so sitting down to write this feels both exciting and a bit scary. Imposter syndrome’s whiny little voice loves to ask me why I think I have the right to hold forth on, well, any topic really but this one in particular is a doozy. What do I know about leadership?

I know what I value in a leader – someone who knows where they want to go, and is committed to bringing others along with them. Someone who can see the bigger picture, and communicate it clearly to those around them. Someone who is excited for the future, for change, but doesn’t forget that everyone will be at a different stage in the journey.

It’s a leader’s job to get to the top of the hill, check out the view on the other side and shout back to the whole gang to come and see how amazing it is. It’s their job to work out how everyone is going to get up there, and down the other side. Even the people who really hate walking up hills. Especially the people who really hate walking up hills. Good leaders look out for those guys.

Leaders are those people who see when things aren’t working so well, and bring people together to make them better. King’s vision is to make the world a better place, and mine is to make my bit of King’s a better place – whether that’s for my immediate team, for the part of the university I work in, or wider as part of cross campus initiatives like the Parent & Carers network.

So perhaps I didn’t plan on becoming a leader, but I know what kind of leader I want to be. And I was brought up in the Pennines, so I’m pretty good at getting up hills. Watch this space!

#WomenofKings: Chenee Psaros

To celebrate International Women’s Day and #WomenofKings, we have invited the panelists who will be speaking at our Elevate – Gender Equality Network launch, to reflect on finding their own leadership. Chenee Psaros, a founding member of the LGBTQ+ Staff Network, speaks about leadership as understanding one’s own positional power and using that to promote others.

I think great leadership is having an understanding of how our systems of power marginalise and disenfranchise people. It is understanding that individuals should be considered through multiple lenses; they do not exist separately from their class, race, sexual orientation, age, religion, disability or gender. It is understanding how our own social privilege can create blind spots where we can disregard others without careful thought. Leadership is knowing that every person has something of value to offer.

As one of the founding members of Proudly King’s, the King’s LGBTQ+ Staff Network, I am proud to work alongside people who share similar views to mine.

We work tirelessly ensuring that in our institution we are equal, culturally as well as legally. We want to make sure that queer people feel comfortable enough to bring their whole selves to work, knowing that they can share who they are without fear of intimidation or discrimination. We also think it is important to enlighten and inform others of the obstacles queer people may face at work.

I believe that everyone has it within their power to be a leader because as a leader you don’t always need to do something great, you just need to do something brave. Standing up for something you believe in or challenging someone with more power when you think they are wrong are small acts of leadership. Leadership is knowing who you are and what you stand for and being open enough to change your mind.

It Stops Here: Intersectional Allies

To celebrate It Stops Here Week (25th Feb – 1st March), our wonderful Projects & Communications Intern, Riana Henry, has written a blog on the importance of engaging with our student community.

The theme of It Stops Here Week 2019 is “intersectional allyship”

But what does this mean and how does this support the vision of the It Stops Here campaign? 

Intersectionality is all about recognising the connection between different types of stigmas and oppression in our society. Allyship is all about supporting one another in our community.

“Intersectional allyship” can happen once we educate ourselves on the connection between the different stigmas prevalent in our society and how we can actually support those who are affected by them in a variety of ways.

Recently, KCL Sexpression ran the “Don’t Be a Prick campaign”. They posted information online about consent, sexual harassment and being an active bystander and then challenged students to be quizzed on this information. If students answered correctly they were rewarded with a cactus.

The aim of the campaign was to educate students and raise awareness about the issues we face in society around attitudes towards sexual harassment.

I was initially sceptical about how much of an impact this would have on solving such a massive problem.

However, after talking to students that came along to stall I was proved wrong. There were some students who had completely misunderstood what consent was, putting themselves and others at risk. Through the campaign we were able to do something about this and help to combat harassment before it had the chance to happen by educating and raising awareness.  

I remember one student mentioned it was ridiculous that we should have to run campaigns like this to educate adults on what consent is. Whilst it is shame this type of education is not prioritised in schools and it is terrible we live in a society so ignorant to these issues, we have the power to change this one step at a time.

The “Don’t Be a Prick” campaign is one small step, It Stops Here week another and if we can continue to take these small steps without being deterred by the complexity and vastness of the problem, I honestly believe we can achieve the ambitious aims of the It Stops Here campaign.

Just the two of us

For LGBTQ+ History Month, Chenee Psaros from our LGBTQ+ Staff Network, Proudly King’s, has kindly penned a guest blog on the depths of love.

LGBT History Month has the fabulous fortune of having Valentine’s Day blossoming into red, heart-shaped glory right in the middle of February. Barely having recovered from Christmas, we get cajoled into celebrating love at a time when we have more freedom to love whom we choose than ever before in the UK. And that is a good thing, right? Because, ‘love trumps hate’ and ‘choosing love’ can only make the world a better place.

In Western Society the privileging of couple-relationships is something that happens to everyone at some point in their lives, whether we are queer or we’re straight, whether we’re trans or we’re cis, no matter what our age, race or ethnicity, we are bound to be single at some point. Couple-privilege discriminates indiscriminately. We are consistently shown a narrative of romantic love or traditional relationships as one of two people meeting, falling in love, having a sexual relationship and settling down. Coupling is entwined with attraction, desire, love and sex. We are told these ingredients are essential for a successful partnership. In our history partnerships are mostly exclusive, and they are usually the most important relationship of our lives, surpassed only by those which we have with our children.  We are almost never given alternatives.

As part of its series of events for LGBT History Month, Proudly King’s, the King’s College Staff LGBTQIA Network is hosting What is Love? The Depths of Queer Relationships; a panel discussion to examine looking beyond the privilege of couple-relationships to offer up alternatives. We are exploring how and why people choose to be alone in a world designed for pairs. And why, if we can love our friends without limits, love our families forever, love our jobs and lead fulfilling lives, we are considered deficient if we don’t feel sexual attraction? Why do we conflate love relationships with sex? Why is being single seen as something to be pitied, even if it is by choice. Equally, if we can love more than one parent, more than one child, more than one sibling why is it is not common practice to love more than one partner. Why are people who chose to engage ethically in non-monogamous relationships villainised?

We are hoping to have a sensitive discussion regarding alternatives to traditional relationships. We will be highlighting those relationships included in the Asexual and Non-Monogamous spectrums. We are looking at narratives that go beyond prioritising romantic and sex-based relationships over non-sexual or non-romantic relationships. We hope you can join us.

Diversifying the Default

So, as I write it is the early days of 2019. The time of year when I  reflect on the year we’ve just said goodbye to and look forward and to the opportunities the new year will bring. On this horizon I see the deadline for submission of King’s Race Equality Chartermark looming large.

I recently finished Slay in Your Lane by Elizabeth Uviebinené and Yomi Adegoke and it was like somehow someone had emptied my brain and heart to concentrate so much of my everyday life experience and of other black women (or women of colour) into these few hundred pages.

I reflected that I have had a number of experiences that resonated with Uviebinené and Adegoke’s words and it brought to mind something Patrick Johnson, Head of Equality & Diversity University of Manchester, said at the Leadership Foundation HE BME summit earlier this year. He talked about ‘default man and woman’ – the first, and singular, characteristics we use to describe people that then balloons into our other assumptions about people.

Here is my picture (and my partners!) – what do you see?

I am regularly flummoxed and frustrated to be sitting in meetings, often ones set up specifically to talk about equality, diversity and inclusion. Often those meetings involve discussing data or evidence or insight…

“Yes we looked at gender”

By which they mean the representation of women (usually) but not for race. Or…

“Yes we have done a review for ethnicity… but not for gender.”

Depending on my mood I might sit and wait to see any light bulbs flash up  simply by being faced with me – a person who clearly identifies and presents as a woman and who has obviously brown skin – or I might throw in something like “well people have ethnicities and genders at the same time” in a self-conscious or self-righteous tone.

I always feel simultaneously incredulous and awkward and often angry at having to point out this very basic fact. I’m also keenly aware that any such quips need to be contextualised with some good humour as the humourless feminist and angry black woman trope hang over my shoulders. At those moments I wish I could just sci fi like project a showing of Kimberley Crenshaw’s intersectionality talk.

But why does this happen?  I ask myself this a lot, and sometimes I ask others. It goes back to ‘default man and woman’ and our brain’s wish to simplify and so use these singular defining characteristics.

A key element of the success of our work in delivering our action plan for the Race Equality Chartermark will be whether we can get every member of the King’s community to seriously challenge their own perceptions and assumptions. When asked to review data and consider equality ‘stuff’ what picture of a person do we have in our mind? Are they just a man or a woman? What about their race, age, sexual orientation, religion or belief or marital status? That picture, if limited, means we risk forgetting/overlooking that there are many different types of identity combinations and our job in considering equality, diversity and inclusion is to consider all of them.

So, with that I say Happy New Year I urge you in 2019 to consider intersectionality and more importantly how you learn about your own and how you learn to actively think about it in your day to day working life.

Reflections on Race Equality – Natalie Armitage

In the lead up to our Race Equality Chartermark submission, we want to highlight some of the experiences of those working on race equality and the personal stories that take place behind the scenes. Over the coming months, we will be posting a series of guest blog posts written by those working closely on the submission which demonstrate the way race equality is a part of all of our stories.  Our second blog is from HR Case Consultant, Natalie Armitage, where she reflects on her own personal journey since joining the Race Equality Charter Mark Writing Group. 

If I could sum up my experience as part of the Race Equality Charter Mark Writing Group (RECMWG) in three words, I would say: positive, enlightening and inspirational.

When first asked to be a part of the RECMWG, my first reaction was excitement.

Absolutely, I really want to get stuck in and learn.

But almost immediately my next reaction was fear with a dash of imposter syndrome.

What could I possibly bring to the table? I am white, I have no real knowledge of this issue- I don’t know what I could add.

What this experience has taught me is that everyone has something to add – we all have a responsibility to learn beyond our own experience and use our voices. Every meeting I attend I learn, grow and feel more motivated to help with the success of race equality at King’s.

Learning to Use My Voice

One of the first meetings we had was a workshop which was part team-building, part action-planning. We spoke about our motivations for joining the group. I shared that my reasons were:

  • I have no knowledge of this area and I don’t like to be uninformed;
  • I wanted to have a greater impact at King’s;
  • I have held 3 different roles at King’s and my experience in the different areas may be useful

This exercise was absolutely essential to my journey in this group, I started to feel that my presence had meaning and that I DO have something to bring to the table. It also helped to build an invaluable sense of shared purpose amongst the team.

Reading for Further Understanding

A critical step in my journey was sharing books on Race Equality. The books I read were:

My default setting to gain knowledge or learn is always to pick up a book, so this was perfect. Renni Eddo-Lodge opened my mind to thoughts I have never had and discussions I have never shared before. This book really gets to the heart of race equality and how this issue affects BME people, in an honest and raw way.

The second book by Kalwant Bhopal made me immensely uncomfortable, in the best possible way. White privilege is something I have never contemplated before, it was soon obvious that this is very real. To confront this has been a real eye-opener, but it gave me the information I needed to feel more confident in discussions and expanded my thinking in ways that are great for the group, but also for me professionally and personally.

Listening to Prepare for Action

The third key moment I want to share is the Dialogue to Action workshop I attended to capture the discussions between staff and students, which will eventually go on to inform King’s Race Equality action plan. This was an amazing experience because taking notes requires you to actively listen.

I moved between groups and became utterly absorbed. The passion and the real-life experiences that were shared were extremely moving. It became clear, in a way I had not seen before, that race equality at King’s is a huge topic and has an effect on so many. It became so obvious that there are voices to be heard and that people are ready for action.

The RECMWG is well-informed and considered in its pursuit of positive change and it has been a real pleasure to contribute to a group filled with passionate and enthusiastic individuals with a shared sense of purpose.

We Should All Be Cheerleaders – Sarah Guerra

In the lead up to our Race Equality Chartermark submission, we want to highlight some of the experiences of those working on race equality and the personal stories that take place behind the scenes. Over the coming months, we will be posting a series of guest blog posts written by those working closely on the submission which demonstrate the way race equality is a part of all of our stories. Our first blog is from Director of D&I, Sarah Guerra on the importance of championing, mentoring and supporting one another. 

One of the biggest D&I priorities now is renewing the King’s Bronze level Race Equality Chartermark (REC).

Its very easy to get caught up in the commotion of making the submission and forgetting what the point of it is. I was determined that our participation this time should be real and not in any way a mechanical exercise. That alongside some recent occurrences has had me in a particularly reflective mood. The truth is race equality in general and particularly in the workplace is more than a job to me – it’s a big part of who I am

I am reading Slay in Your Lane (Black Girl Bible) (SIYL) by Elizabeth Uviebinené and Yomi Adegoke. The collection of observations and insights has had me reflecting on my personal path and experiences. I often frame these negatively. My recent reflection has had me thinking about how much feeling out of place/other in much of my early career has led to me being resilient and gave me the skills and experience that led King’s to appoint me into this brilliant and brand-new role.  SIYL gives names to many of my experiences. That I have often had to codeswitch, to navigate with emotional intelligence, complex environments which were not accepting of me, that I had to overcome/side step barriers often which I couldn’t see, and which were mostly there because of my heritage and background – means I expect things to be hard. I expect to have to plan and have developed a wide range of personal tools and strategies to do this. Whilst I didn’t know it, I was faced with daily challenge to my competence and relevance. I can honestly say that hasn’t been my experience at King’s. But the experience I have means that I am able to cope – more than cope, in fact, thrive in the complex environment that King’s presents.

SIYL talks about the need for sponsors, mentors, coaches and cheerleaders in professional life. I’ve realised that for much of my career, these were absent for me. I didn’t know to look for them and I didn’t automatically attract them.

There were two turning points for me, the first having children which led me to change jobs. This helped me discover much about my own identity and drivers. I got the opportunity to work on increasing Black ,Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) participation within Trade Unions. Through that, the second turning point came when I met three women Beverley Martin, Maureen Martin (no they are not related)  and Vivienne Connell-Hall,  we for each other, suddenly, filled all these gaps (sponsorship, mentoring, coaching and cheerleading) simultaneously. Together we started a black women’s network.  We worked on multiple levels and brought about real change in our organisation and created self-belief in many women of colour. Literally one more junior woman said to us I never knew there were any people like me (of colour) in those senior grades.


Beverley died suddenly recently from cancer. She was only 7 years older than me. She, through her own self-assurance taught me to consider my value and have goals and targets, to not be fobbed off or delude myself.  She asked difficult questions and didn’t accept wishy-washy answers. I knew at the time I had experienced something special. But, it is only looking back that I realise what a turning point and catalyst the combination of those relationships was. Whilst on a regular basis we have lost touch, the majority of the original ‘Bamesisters’ were at the funeral. All of us recognised what special thing we had done pooling our resources, creating solidarity, support, advocacy and challenge.

These principles are now a key part of me and something less easily articulated about the person I discovered. The power I unleashed in myself because of knowing Beverley is the core of what SIYL also captures.  These for me are also the core of what the REC is about.  They are why I am motivated to do the work I do and want to have an impact here at King’s and in the world! I love that I am trusted and supported to do that.  Beverley, Maureen and Vivienne taught me the value of positive reinforcement.  Their influence has made positive reinforcement a big part of my personal philosophy.  This was missing in my early career and I know is missing for many people of colour still.

One of the things I particularly value about the REC process is that it requires us to reflect on where we are, our successes and what we still must achieve.  Personally, SIYL and Beverley’s death has led me to take inventory of where I am, of the relationships that boost and support me, doing what I can to notice what my needs are and recognising how to get the professional and personal nourishment I need on a day to day basis.

King’s is full of incredible people with huge talent and such strong values. I hope through my personal brand of leadership and via the REC we can get to a point where every single member of our community you feel they get the sponsorship, mentoring, coaching and cheerleading they deserve.

Language Matters: no ‘special’ education, thanks.

To kick off our UK Disability History Month celebrations, Erk Gunce, MA Student and member of King’s staff has kindly offered to write a guest post for us which reflects on the Dialogues on Disability conference and the importance of language when it comes to talking about the experience of being disabled. 

We re also hosting a very special Language and Disability Workshop on the 3rd of December as part of our UK Disability History Month events which will also launch of King’s new Disability Peer Mentoring Fund, an exciting initiative to help students get involved in inclusive practices at King’s.

To all allies, hello!

I have just returned from Dialogues on Disability. The week-long disability awareness program took place in Humboldt University, Berlin.  Every year, the Disability Support team at King’s sends students to different countries to increase their disability awareness. This year, at Humboldt University, we spent hours discussing the barriers imposed on disabled people and ways of removing them.

As a linguist, I am intrigued by language. The words we use… are they biased?  In Berlin, I led a workshop on Language and Disability. With students from all over the world, we analysed the language used to talk about disabled people. We weren’t happy with what we found.

The words we use to talk about disabilities have a lot of subtle biases. Think about the word ‘special education’. By calling someone special, we alienate them. Wouldn’t it be better to normalise disability, instead of alienating it?

There is much debate around terminology. Some people call themselves ‘disabled person’, others prefer ‘person with a disability’. Emphasizing the word ‘person’ highlights that one is a person, before anything else. Emphasizing the word ‘disabled’ highlights that disabled people are objects of a disablement – it is society who disable them, by not creating an accessible society.

The Guardian has a style guide. Columnists are told to avoid certain words, like ‘wheelchair-bound’. The word ‘wheelchair-bound’ suggests that someone is forced to use a wheelchair, that the wheelchair is a burden, an obligation. Isn’t it ironic to call a wheelchair a burden? A wheelchair is a liberator: it is what enables wheelchair users to contribute to society.

Did you see the British Government’s guide on inclusive language use ? They argue that we should say ‘non-disabled’, instead of ‘able-bodied’. Arguably, the word ‘able-bodied’ neglects mental health disabilities. How, then, can our language be fully inclusive? Think about the word ‘disorder’. Does it imply sickness? Why say that someone has a ‘learning disorder’, instead of a ‘learning difference’? Need I mention ‘delicate’, ‘spastic’, ‘handicapped’?

What I find unbelievable is that language bias is universal. Disability in French is invalidité. In Italian, it’s invalidità. In Slovenian, it’s invalidnosti. Can you see the trend? And it doesn’t end there. Connotations can change from one culture to another. Saying ‘hearing impaired’ can be offensive in America, but in the UK, it’s considered neutral.

So, how do we talk about disability? And which words are inclusive? My advice is to think. Reflect on the words you use and their subtle meanings. My second advice is to ask. Every disabled person will use different words to describe their condition. Ask what words they use to describe themselves. Better to ask than assume.

Need more on language and oppression? Check out things not to say . For more debates on disability, stay tuned for Disability Awareness Month in November. If you want to participate, get in touch!

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