Today marks the last day of National Disability Employment Awareness Month(NDEAM), a campaign led by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy to educate corporate America about disability employment issues, and to celebrate the contributions of America’s workers with disabilities. But embracing disability awareness and inclusion is not just a matter of corporate social responsibility, or something to celebrate once a year: business leaders have a lot to gain by supporting disabled individuals, as demonstrated recently by Richard Branson, whose Virgin Group recently announced an investment in Auticon, a social enterprise that exclusively hires IT consultants who have autism.
Why should leaders care about disability?
People with disabilities are a type of underrepresented minority that is often overlooked when discussing Diversity & Inclusion. And yet, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2010 19% of the population had a disability; more recently, Cornell University’s Disability Statistics report showed that, in 2014, 10.8% of working-age individuals (ages 21-64) suffered from a disability, and full-time employment among this group was only 21.6%. Employers who become more inclusive toward individuals with disabilities thus stand to gain a significant competitive advantage by tapping into an underutilized talent pool.
Aside from expanding the talent pool, being more inclusive toward people with disabilities can create significant revenue growth: in the U.S. alone, people with disabilities control an estimated $544 billion in annual disposable income. Globally, when you include family and close friends of disabled individuals, the market reaches 2.3 billion people who control an incremental $6.9 trillion in annual disposable income. Hence individuals with disabilities represent a substantial and largely untapped market opportunity.
What can be done to make the most of the opportunity that disabled individuals represent? We celebrate the end of NDEAM by offering six ideas for actions that you and your company can take to support disabled employee awareness and inclusion throughout the year.
1. Educate yourself. There are numerous organizations and websites where you can learn more about employees with disabilities, and how to make the workplace more inclusive and welcoming. To get you started, check out the U.S. Dept. of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy and their Job Accommodation Network; the American Association of People with Disabilities (AADP); and Cornell University’s Yang-Tan Institute on Employment and Disability; or explore the history of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
2. Organize an educational or mentoring event. The Job Accommodation Network offers a series of free training modules that can be used for individual training, group training, or can be integrated into other events. And the AADP offers year-round, nationwide mentoring events.
3. Learn – or offer training in – American Sign Language. You can take classes to learn American Sign Language from a variety of sources, including local and state colleges, community centers for the hearing impaired and other sources, as described on the website of the National Association of the Deaf.
4. Establish a relationship with a local nonprofit. No matter where you live, you can find a variety of nonprofit organizations that can provide you or your company information, and that host meetings and events where you can meet experts and learn more. The National Center on Disability and Journalism includes an extensive list of disability-related organizations.
5. Explore the human side of disabilities. For most of us, coming into contact with a disabled individual can feel awkward. The best way to overcome that discomfort is to learn about different types of disabilities and recognize that disability is just a different type of ability. Organizations like Diversability and Positive Exposure offer great information and organize some exceptional events.
6. Make sure your events are accessible. Earlier this year we attended Tech Inclusion NYC, a conference that explores innovative solutions to tech diversity and innovation. The conference included a sign language interpreter, a stenographer for captioning of the live sessions, and other disability-friendly features. It was refreshing to see a significant number of disabled individuals in attendance, but also a sober reminder that the vast majority of conferences and meetings do not even think about accessibility. The next time you plan an event, consult with a disability expert to make people with disabilities feel welcome.
The last of these points should remind us that even a small effort can make a big difference in the life of individuals. This, in turn, will have a huge positive impact on society as a whole, and on those companies that put inclusion into practice. We hope that some of these ideas will be useful, and please feel free to contribute additional ideas and resources in the comments section.