To mark International Day of Disabled Persons and Disability History Month, which take place in November and December every year, Womble Bond Dickinson (WBD) hosted a panel discussion with the Law Society looking at a number of important topics that are key to increasing disability inclusion in the profession.

Why disability is relevant

There are 16 million disabled people in the UK (approximately one in four people), with most disabilities being non-visible.

In light of this, it is evident that disability impacts so many of us – both directly, and also indirectly (through family, friends, and people we work with being disabled or having long term conditions). As such, disability inclusion is absolutely essential.

Michelle Essen, WBD Legal Director and WBD Disability Network Chair, led the discussion and was joined by an engaging panel made up of:

  • Chris Seel, Diversity & Inclusion Adviser and disability lead at the Law Society
  • Alex Wilson, Head of Legal - Nordics, Belgium and Luxembourg at CBRE and Law Society Council Member for Disabled Solicitors
  • Placida Ojinnaka, Committee member, Law Society's Disabled Solicitors Network, and
  • Sally Dallow, WBD Partner and WBD Disability Network Champion.

Key themes in disability inclusion

The panel explored a number of core topics, which are vital to improving disability awareness and inclusion:

  • What do we mean by "disability" and "disabled" – including the legal definition, the social vs medical model, visible and non-visible disabilities, and neurodiversity
  • Why disability can seem like a neglected area for inclusion work – the challenges in making progress in disability, and the fear of "getting it wrong"
  • Why disability matters to your firm, in-house team or organisation – the many benefits of people being supported to meet their potential, and the strengths of disabled people
  • How to improve disability representation – with insights discussed around safe spaces, good data collection, recruitment, reasonable adjustments and much more.

If you wish to find out more about the many topics covered by our panellists, including audience questions, contact for the full recording.

Key takeaways for disability inclusion

Our speakers have also shared their key takeaways for disability inclusion:

  • Alex Wilson – "We should forgive non-inclusive language and give others permission to get it wrong – it is far better to have the conversation and discuss non-inclusive behaviours in a safe space than avoid the topic altogether."
  • Chris Seel - “Listen to your disabled colleagues. A mantra of disability inclusion is ‘nothing about us without us’ and so always include disabled people or disabled people’s organisations when considering changes to practices and policies. Do not assume or generalise; listen openly and be prepared to challenge how you have always thought or behaved."
  • Placida Ojinnaka – "Reimagine the possibilities of an inclusive profession, where every human thrives not just survives and share the hope and dream that the best opportunities are coming."
  • Sally Dallow  - "Be mindful that an individual can feel really vulnerable admitting that they are struggling to cope even when they are asked if they want some help. Lessen the burden on them by raising your own understanding of disability in all of its many forms, and your knowledge of the range of support that can help."
  • Michelle Essen – "It's very easy to judge people and their perceived circumstances but if there's one thing that the last few years have taught us (particularly during the COVID years) is that we often have absolutely no idea what is going on in other people's lives. Someone may have a non-visible disability, be a parent or carer for someone with a disability or long-term condition, be menopausal or anxious or grieving, or simply be having a terrible day. So give people the benefit of the doubt – as the saying goes, "in a world where you can be anything, be kind"".

If you would like to know more, helpful information from the Law Society can be found here:

WBD's Disability Network supports everyone at WBD affected by disability or long term conditions. You can find out how they have been raising disability awareness and making positive contributions towards fostering a supportive and inclusive working environment in WBD’s Responsible Business Reports of 2022 and 2023, and more about WBD's DEI progress and initiatives can be found here.

This article is for general information only and reflects the position at the date of publication. It does not constitute legal advice.