Are you doing enough to include people with disabilities in your DE&I efforts?

While referenced in organizations in some capacity since the 1960s, diversity and inclusion programs have rapidly become a chief corporate initiative in the past decade due to societal reform and social justice initiatives. While many leaders have made strides in equality across gender, race, and sexual orientation, one area that hasn’t received as much attention is disability. In fact, of the 90% of companies that claim diversity as a priority, only 4% consider disability in those initiatives, according to a report from the Return On Disability Group. This is a major concern given that an estimated 1.3 billion people (15% of the world’s population) experience some type of disability.

If you aren’t actively considering how to find and engage this massive source of talent in today’s market, you are missing out on diverse, highly skilled individuals who are ready to work.

People with disabilities have the skills, experience, and academic qualifications to be considered on an equitable basis with other job seekers and should be recognized for their ability before anything else. This parity of opportunity will set organizations apart and bring net-new talent to them, creating future brand ambassadors and enlarging the talent pool for their future. It also means more diverse ideas and opinions, which translates to improved financial and operational performance and employee satisfaction.

To highlight this in more detail, Staffing industry Analysts surveyed more than 250 business leaders from the US, Europe, and APAC whose companies use contingent labor for its “Future of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Contingent Workforce: 2022 Update” report. They found DE&I leaders in 2022 outperformed followers in areas such as access to talent, ability to fill open positions, and ability to attract talent. This provides a significant competitive advantage in today’s tight labor markets.

So, where can organizations start when it comes to including disability as a priority in their corporate DE&I strategy? Acknowledgment and authenticity are a good start, according to  Steve Carter, Co-Founder of The Ability People (TAP), a consulting and advisory service focused on disability inclusion in the workplace.

“We want to help move the focus away from the clichéd and stereotypical perspective on disability, which tends to focus on the physical environment (the ramp!), and realign thinking to focus on the equally important areas of culture, acceptance, the capability of leadership, and to be more representative of the wider community.”
Steve Carter,
Co-Founder of The Ability People (TAP)

Putting words into action means continued education, exposure, and empathy.

“To create an inspired and engaged workforce who are keen to embrace ‘difference’ and are not intimidated by disability means letting go of the fear of asking or saying, ‘I don’t know where to begin, and I’m afraid to ask for fear of showing up as uneducated about disability.”
Liz Johnson,
Managing Director & Co-Founder, TAP.

“There are common misconceptions about people with disabilities and what they require from work,” she continued.

One way organizations like TAP help companies become more inclusive of people with disabilities is by co-creating talent programs. This includes:

  • Conducting an accessibility audit to see the opportunities and challenges that exist
  • Building your disability-inclusive employer brand and “talent process”
  • Promoting opportunities to candidates with disabilities using open (physical or virtual) “marketplace” days and selective media and networks
  • Utilizing “work shadowing” and mentoring as a “working interview” 
  • Introducing recruitment and selection processes that are without bias to allow people with disabilities or impairments to shine

Beyond acknowledgment and authenticity, organizations must also build inclusion into different parts of their business, including culture and brand, behavior, process, and technology. This, said Johnson, is an investment that will lead to better decision-making and innovation. From a technology perspective, companies must look at the inaccessibility of the application and recruitment process, how people with disabilities use this technology and uncover unconscious bias that exists in all parts of the hiring process (AI-driven automation is essential). This can include things like how people apply for roles, online accessibility, and how job descriptions are written.

Not just considering but actively taking steps to include talent with all kinds of disabilities—physical, neurodiverse, hearing or sight impaired, and others— means greater opportunity for innovation, better work-life balance for all you employ, and a greater economic impact on your bottom line and the larger world. It also means you will be seen as an employer of choice for the entire workforce—a meaningful and necessary competitive advantage in today’s competitive market.