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Conversations without fear: language and etiquette

A webinar with Mike Adams, CEO, Purple and Catherine Grinyer, Big Voice Communications

Purple posed a question to all those listening in to the webinar this morning “Have you ever hesitated in approaching a disabled person for fear of saying something wrong?” You won’t be alone if you answer “yes” to this question. Over the course of Mike and Catherine’s webinar some very sound advice was shared to help us all feel more confident in opening up the disability conversation.

Mike asked Catherine about her top dos and don’ts when communicating with disabled people:


  • Get to know your audience – try to make people feel comfortable talking to you.
  • Ask disabled people how they would like to be approached, how you should refer to their disability, what assistance they might need from you.
  • Talk to the disabled person, not their carer, PA or interpreter.


  • Make assumptions about someone’s disability and what they can or can’t do
  • Use terms like ‘wheelchair-bound, able-bodied or ‘the blind’…
  • Use inappropriate phrases like ‘falling on deaf ears’ or ‘that’s a bit OCD’

Mike highlighted that it is important to remember that 80% of the disabled in the UK have non-visible impairments. These might include a hearing impairment, dyslexia or a mental health condition which effects 1 in 7 people in the workplace. Catherine identified ways to help employers to feel confident in encouraging employees to share relevant information about their disabilities:

  • Try and create a culture where it’s OK to have an honest conversation
  • Communicate that the well-being of all employees is important – ask employees if there is anything that can be done to improve their experience at work.
  • Ask open questions to allow employees to open up and avoid using narrow or misleading terms around disability
  • Don’t stereotype disabled employees – treat everyone as an individual and be led by them.
  • Check at the start of meetings whether everyone is happy with the way materials have been provided and ask for feedback afterwards if necessary.

Catherine and Mike reinforced the message that conversation channels need to be open to reduce fear and increase disability confidence. Be bold and brave, don’t be afraid about offending (you can always say sorry if you get it wrong). Just open the conversation.

And finally, Catherine’s top three tips:

  1. Be yourself – disabled people are friendly too
  2. If you’re in any doubt, just ask, be human and listen
  3. Use plain English – reduce formal and legal terms

The full webinar is available to view here. Take the time to watch it and we’re sure you will answer that first question about approaching someone with a disability differently.