Becoming a Disability Ally:
British Embassy Berlin

Celebrating Disability recently delivered a bespoke talk on becoming a disability ally for the British Embassy Berlin.

After working with Celebrating Disability, employees at the embassy now feel much better equipped to engage in conversation about disability in the workplace.

Interactive talk


The Background

The British Embassy Berlin maintains and develops relations between the UK and Germany. They work closely with the German government on a wide range of issues, including climate change, science and innovation, foreign policy, defence and police co-operation.

After Berlin became the capital of reunified Germany, the British Embassy moved from Bonn to Berlin and a brand new building was opened in 2000. “It’s only twenty years old,” said Chris McNulty, a member of the embassy’s Diversity and Inclusion group. “So actually, it is an accessible workplace.” However, Chris realised that although the building was mostly accessible, there was not yet much of a dialogue about disability in the workplace: “It was quite new territory,” he said.

Chris began to do his own research, reading about disability. He was struck by the concept of the social model, which he found “super eye-opening and interesting.” He explained: “The default is thinking: If you have a disability, that’s your problem; it’s going to be a hassle and a burden for everyone to accommodate you. But the social model really turns that on its head.” He felt it was important to communicate the social model to his colleagues, many of whom may not have come across this concept. However,

Chris acknowledged that he could not “read one book and think I’m an expert.” He was “very aware that [he would] be only scratching the surface of a number of different facets that are around this issue.” So he decided that “it would be good to have somebody from the disabled community leading the conversation.”

Our Successful Proposal

Chris found Celebrating Disability through an online search. He reached out to Esi, and they quickly set up an initial consultation call. Chris described the call as “really, really helpful”, adding that the guidance Esi gave him would have been invaluable “even if we hadn’t had the funding to go ahead.”

“It was really easy and uncomplicated to work with Celebrating Disability in terms of designing the content of the session.”

After speaking with Chris about the embassy’s goals and objectives, we put together a proposal. Chris was impressed by how the content was designed so “that people would come away from the one-hour session, having learnt something tangible.”

Becoming a Disability Ally

The session, called “Becoming a Disability Ally” took place during the embassy’s yearly Learning and Development Week. Forty participants were in attendance; many of whom had “maybe never thought much about this topic before.”

Esi opened the talk by sharing some engaging facts and statistics about disability. Participants found many of these stats surprising: like the fact that 80% of disabilities are invisible, or that only 4% of disabled people are full-time wheelchair-users.

There was an animated discussion about inclusive language: what terms for disability are preferred, and how some of our everyday metaphors and idioms might unintentionally be offensive to disabled people. The group also discussed how microaggressions can be hurtful to disabled people in the workplace. Finally, Esi summarised some key takeaways from the talk, and participants were encouraged to set their own goals for becoming a better disability ally.

The talk got “really, really positive feedback from lots of people who said it was very eye-opening,” said Chris. “Many colleagues had never actually questioned some of the ways they work.”

Chris went on to suggest that “for lots of people, if you haven’t been affected, or you’re not from that community and you haven’t got direct experience, disability might not be on your radar at all.” So it was encouraging to find that after the talk, he and his colleagues were able to better empathise with the everyday challenges that many disabled people face:

“You start putting yourself in the shoes of somebody from the disabled community…You think: if I was using public transport and the lift was broken, and I can’t actually get out at the station, that’s obviously a huge issue and it’s not acceptable, is it?”

Chris and his colleagues understood that becoming a disability ally is sometimes – paradoxically – about recognising the limits of one’s own knowledge: they accepted “the fact that [they] didn’t know the answers to certain things.” However, they knew they were determined to learn, to improve their approach to accessibility and inclusion, and to ensure that disabled colleagues felt better supported.

Key Takeaways

  • Understanding the social model of disability
  • Knowing that barriers can be environmental, attitudinal, communicational or systemic
  • Empathising with the disability community
  • Recognising that they don’t have all the answers

Next Steps

Going forward, Chris and his team are determined to “keep the conversation going.”

“There was feedback at the end of the first session from some people saying they’d love to explore this topic more,” he explained. “So maybe we could work with Celebrating Disability again.”

Chris envisions working with us again to “deep dive into more of the issues” in a slightly longer session of more than one hour.

Training sessions tailored to your needs

Designed around your specific goals and outcomes to empower disability inclusion

Designed and delivered with lived experience of disability

All trainers talk from a pan disability experience. We couple that with realistic recommendations for your workplace.

Immersive, interactive and outcome focused

Using a variety of engagement methods to encourage safe, open conversation

Resources to track your return on investment

Benchmarking and action plan tracking enabling you and your delegates to track progress

To discover how you can build disability awareness and confidence across your organisation, send us an enquiry or book an exploratory 45 minute call with Esi. We would love to discuss your goals, objectives and how Celebrating Disability can best support you and your team: