Disability And Inclusion Dialogues

Over the next few months, Goal 17 Partners will be hosting a series of dialogues on disability inclusion in partnership with Global Goals Advisory and The Harkin Institute, This series will focus on bringing together the disability and investor communities and the private sector to achieve competitive, integrated employment for people with disabilities.

The first of these discussions was held on May 25 and aimed at showcasing the value proposition for the private sector in creating an inclusive workforce and identified ways to create a meaningful pipeline of talent from the disability community to the private sector. Speakers included Susanne Bruyère, Yang-Tan Institute on Employment and Disability, Cornell University; Caroline Casey, Founder, and Creator, The Valuable 500; Merrill Friedman, Sr. Director, Disability Policy Engagement, Anthem, Inc.; and James Rhee, Impact Investor, Founder, CEO, and Educator. 

The session began with opening remarks from Senator Tom Harkin, a champion of disability inclusion and author of the American Disabilities Act of 1990.  He shared “in this moment in time, it is more important than ever to make strides in employing people with disabilities, as we continue to face the global pandemic and a reckoning on social justice issues throughout all of our societies.” He also praised the Valuable 500 for reaching their goal of getting 500 international organizations to commit to putting disability inclusion on their board agenda.

The panel acknowledged that disabilities are often only recognized as a physical ailment or something visible to the general public, and yet that is not the full picture. A disability can range from anxiety and depression to eyesight deficits, to physical immobility, and more. The panelists shared that many people with disabilities often hide their disabilities, making it harder for people to see how prevalent they are. 

Susanne Bruyère noted that every person will encounter someone with a disability in their lifetime and that one in four American households has a person living with a disability. There is not a single person who is not affected by a disability in some way, “so when employers say ‘we really don’t have people with disabilities in our organization,’ they’re wrong. They’re there,” stated Bruyère. 

This stigmatization is seen heavily in businesses around the world. Caroline Casey informed the audience that out of 90% of the companies that claim to be passionate about inclusivity, only 4% consider disabilities something to be inclusive of, and only one out of three businesses have accessible designs and websites for people with disabilities. “That is a delusion,” said Casey, if a workplace or business is not accommodating to someone, then they are not going to stay. Companies are hurting themselves and their customers and potential employees by not creating inviting, open, and inclusive spaces for all kinds of people to coexist and communicate. A large factor in these diversity inclusion talks revolves around encouraging conversation about disabilities in workplaces, at home, in the government, and in the media. 

Failing to account for people with disabilities means that companies are missing out on a $13 trillion market, made up from the disposable income of persons with disabilities and their friends and family.

What Disability Inclusion Looks and Feels Like in the Workplace: 

  • Universal design to allow all people mobility and the ability to function independently; ramps, elevators, brail, sound cues, and modification to workspaces (including distance work for people who cannot mentally or physically handle a public working area), among other things. 
  • Photos of people with disabilities and the environments that are suitable for all are featured in employment ads, company photos, and newsletters, and the general media of the workplace.
  • Conversations between all kinds of people about disabilities and inclusion tactics. 

What the Private Sector Can Do to Create an Inclusive and Diverse Environment: 

  • CEOs need to address disability inclusion; change doesn’t start from the top, but CEOs and company presidents can quicken the mission. 
  • Job recruiters have to be educated on disability inclusion.
  • Human Resources has to be trained accordingly to deal with all kinds of disabilities, both mental and physical.
  • Communications departments have to acknowledge disability in organizational outreach and their workplace media in general.
  • Interns with disabilities should be hired; this introduces a workplace to new cultures and gives people with disabilities a starting point in a new venture with the opportunity for advancement. Companies that hire interns with disabilities are six times more likely to hire full-time employees with disabilities in the next year. 
  • Conferences and informational sessions can be held to educate employees on disability inclusion and maintain the progression of the conversation; every person in a company should be aware of the goal for disability inclusion. 

The panel made it clear that there are only positives to come from the implementation of universal design, hiring people with disabilities, and changing the narrative of what constitutes a disability. Change is slowly being seen, especially thanks to the progress of The Valuable 500. Casey was proud to announce that The Valuable 500 now represents 20 million employees, 35 countries, 64 sectors, 500 board-level commitments, the power of 500 huge supply chains, and a trillion dollars in revenue: They are now the biggest business move for disability inclusion in the world and are nowhere near done getting companies on board with them. Tune into our next discussion on June 22 to keep learning more.  

Watch the full recording here.