Disability Inclusive Language:
Help for Heroes

Celebrating Disability recently worked with Help for Heroes, with a goal to improve disability inclusion across the charity’s communications.

Through tone-of-voice consulting and tailored training sessions, Help for Heroes gained an improved understanding of how to use the appropriate language to describe disability. After working with Celebrating Disability, staff reported that they now have the confidence to better represent disabled people across the charity’s external communications.

Training sessions

Delegate registrations


Delegates said they were able to immediately implement steps

The Background

Help for Heroes is a UK charity that helps the Armed Forces community to live well after service. The charity provides tailored and holistic support for veterans across different service areas, including with their physical and mental health and welfare needs. The charity also tackles social isolation.

Over the last couple of years, Help for Heroes has been looking at the language they use externally to ensure that it is accessible and inclusive. Paul Donovan, the charity’s Senior Copywriter, explained that this is especially important because of the demographic of people that Help for Heroes works with: the charity supports veterans from the Armed Forces, so many of the people they work with have physical or mental health conditions or impairments. Therefore, it was crucial that the charity’s language and communications authentically represented disabled people. “We wanted to make sure we were talking about those issues in the correct way,” said Paul, “We wanted to be as positive or progressive as we could be. We wanted to be thought leaders, really.”

The charity had become aware of one or two examples in which their language felt outdated, and Paul explained that they felt a responsibility to use the appropriate terminology:

“We had to make sure that anyone and everyone working at the charity was aware of disability issues, especially the people who were writing about them.”

There was increasing conversation about the need to better understand disability issues inside the Help for Heroes EDI forum, but it was decided that the charity would benefit from outside help, from experts. Andy Johnson-Creek, Head of Communications and Public Affairs, explained: “We went external as getting this space right is very important and something we are wholly committed to.

Our Successful Proposal

Help for Heroes came across Celebrating Disability through an online search. Soon after finding us, we met to discuss their desired goals and outcomes, and we constructed a proposal outlining how Tone of Voice consulting and tailored training sessions would meet these goals. Andy recalled: “Celebrating Disability clearly knew the space and they understood what we wanted and needed.”

Help for Heroes was determined to work with a disability awareness training provider who “had access or insight to lived experience and could tell us this is why it’s right to say this, this is why it’s wrong, these are ways you could slip up.”

Paul explained that we appealed over our competitors because we are user-led and provide an intersectional, pan-disability approach: our Founder and Managing Director Esi Hardy and diverse team of Associates all have lived experience of disability or of having caring responsibilities. “Hearing from Esi about her experiences and all that research and insight she had gave us a level of understanding that’s really helped us with our work,” said Paul.

Similarly, in the post-session feedback, one participant highlighted that it was “most useful” to hear about “Esi’s own personal experience”, as well as “her professional knowledge of the subject.” 

Creating an Inclusive Tone of Voice

The first step to working with Help for Heroes was Tone of Voice consulting. Paul recalled:

“We noticed that there were a couple of phrases that were being used that didn’t sound right”.

Esi looked at the charity’s existing materials and suggested where updates could be made. For example, Esi noticed the use of the word “wounded” and explained that the term was no longer deemed to be inclusive: “injured” would be a better substitute.

During these early conversations, Esi used Mentimeter, an online polling software, to encourage the Help for Heroes team to reflect on what language they liked and disliked. This allowed Esi to better understand the charity’s tone of voice. The words which seemed to best reflect the brand tone of voice were “authoritative”, “empowering” and “supportive.”

Esi then created a glossary of disability language and terms. The document provided examples of inclusive language, as well as definitions of terms which are often associated with disability. The glossary not only helped define disability, but all sorts of other terms including the different models of disability (eg. the social model vs the medical model), reasonable adjustments, accessibility and access requirements.

Once the Help for Heroes “Tone of Voice and House Style Guide” was updated, Esi and Paul used the material to plan the training sessions.

Teaching Employees to use the Right Language

​The “Disability Language Training” sessions ran over two dates in September 2022. 17 Help for Heroes employees attended the first session, and 8 attended the second.

Esi opened the sessions with an introduction, and encouraged everyone to share what they were hoping to get out of the session. Paul recalled that initially, there was some anxiety, because many of the participants were not used to discussing disability issues:

“There was no lack of wanting to learn but there were some nerves around discussing the topic. People didn’t want to offend anyone or say anything wrong.” But soon enough, any anxiety was dissipated because Esi “instantly relaxed everyone and brought [the topic] to life.”

Using engaging real-life examples, Esi introduced the group to disability inclusive language and explained how some words are problematic or outdated. Paul explained that “because she was so laid back and articulate, with a great sense of humour”, participants were quickly put at ease. Of course, the participants had lots of queries – Paul recalled that it was a “lively and interesting” discussion, where “people were proactive with asking questions” – but Esi “responded really kindly and patiently.”

One participant thanked Esi for creating a “safe space for talking through queries.” Another said that “Esi made the training interesting, engaging, thought provoking and at the right pace.” In the post-session feedback, 80% of participants described the workshop as “excellent”.

Increase in Disability Confidence

The biggest outcome from working with Celebrating Disability was that Help for Heroes felt they had learned to “tell the story in the right way.” Paul explained:

“The training brought us up to speed with using the language correctly. It makes understand the issues that people with disabilities face, and how they want to communicate those issues and the solutions that Help for Heroes is providing.”

The post-session feedback revealed that 80% of participants found the training “very valuable” to their role. A striking 100% of participants said that they felt able to immediately implement steps to be more disability inclusive. One participant called the training “useful and relevant” while another said it was “super engaging!”

A colourful bar chart is titled “I feel able to immediately implement ideas to be more disability inclusive”. The bar chart illustrates that 60% of respondents rated “Strongly agree” and 40% as “Agree.”

A colourful bar chart is titled “I feel able to immediately implement ideas to be more disability inclusive”. The bar chart illustrates that 60% of respondents rated “Strongly agree” and 40% as “Agree.”

Learning about the social model was deemed especially useful, because it taught participants to distinguish between the “challenges” and “barriers” that disabled people face. The key idea was that “people are disabled because society isn’t meeting their accessibility requirements.” Paul explained that the team now understands that “disabled” is not a negative word, and that in reality “people want to use the word disabled.” However, he added that not everyone the charity speaks to has yet accepted that they are disabled, particularly if they have only recently been injured. It is important to listen carefully to how each individual speaks about their condition, and to then respect and reflect their preferred language.

Another outcome from working with Celebrating Disability was understanding the nuances of disability representation. For example, Esi and Paul discussed the delicate balance between acknowledging that many of the Armed Forces are disabled – and that there is pride in this part of their identity – while not wanting to define them by their disability. As another example, Esi explained that describing disability with the word “inspiring” was unhelpful and should be avoided.

After much discussion and collaboration, the team found a tone of voice which was neutral, positive and progressive – and in keeping with Help for Heroes’ existing voice.

Key takeaways for Help for Heroes

Help for Heroes is left with a number of key takeaways:

  • Using inclusive disability language
  • Viewing disability through the social model
  • Understanding positive disability representation
  • Updating their Tone of Voice and House Style Guide

Next Steps

“We don’t want this to be a one-off, we want it to be an ongoing learning curve,” said Paul, about the charity’s future plans. “In EDI there’s always something to learn and we never want to get complacent with it.”

The charity is currently working on their 2022 Inclusivity and Gender Pay Gap report, which details their work with Celebrating Disability: “We’ll be using this opportunity to pique people’s interest and state how important this topic is for us, and laying out why it’s important and relevant.” The charity has also recently begun to work with a new trustee who has a particular interest in EDI issues, so they are hopeful that this too will keep the topic of disability on the agenda.

We hope to work again with Help for Heroes in the future, as they continue to improve disability inclusion across the organisation.

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: hello@celebratingdisability.co.uk