People With Disabilities Want Paychecks Not Pity: Here’s How Businesses Are Helping

Despite reports that U.S. unemployment continues to drop, most people with disabilities are still unemployed. And, despite the recent focus on hiring a diverse workforce, developing disability inclusion practices has lagged far behind. Until now. New research from Accenture, in partnership with Disability: IN and the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD), reveals that companies that embrace and improve their policies and practices for inclusion of disabilities in the workforce significantly outperform their peers. Research from the Getting to Equal: The Disability Inclusion Advantage shows that 45 companies championing disability inclusion experienced on average:

28% higher revenue
twice the net income
30% better performance on economic profit margins
and were twice as likely to have total shareholder returns that outperformed their peers
The full report from Accenture Research is available, here. It should be a pretty huge ‘aha moment’ for Fortune 500 companies—and one that merits a lot of discussion at the top levels about how to redefine disability employment. Ted Kennedy, Jr. introduced the survey to the financial industry, as well as pioneers in the inclusion space, this week: “It should be not be lost on anyone that we are announcing this groundbreaking research at The New York Stock Exchange.” Kennedy said, “We cannot accomplish our goal of using this untapped talent pool without our corporate partners.”

Kennedy, who will finish his term in the Connecticut State Senate shortly plans to pivot to his longtime passion: disability advocacy. As board chair of the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD), a national cross-disability rights organization, he will now be representing the interests of an even larger community—the 50 million Americans living with a disability. Kennedy said that the Accenture report is exactly what the community needed—a strong business case for disability inclusion. “This changes the conversation at the top levels of influential financial companies,” he said. “You just can’t legislate this change.”

Kennedy and other long-time disability advocates recognize that when the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) became law in 1990, it was an historic civil rights law—but they’re looking for more change. (The ADA prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and places open to the general public.) Now, 28 years later, Kennedy said, “The one area that has been stubborn is employment. At the core of this is independent living. People want to live and make decisions for themselves. How can they do that without being gainfully employed? People with disabilities want paychecks, not pity.”

Why The Accenture Report Is Different

Unlike other diversity reports that have been published in the last few years, Getting to Equal:The Disability Inclusion Advantage is solely focused on disability inclusion practices. In addition, past research relied on public records; this research was based on 140 unique respondents to the Disability Equality Index (DEI), a benchmarking tool that includes samples from all major industries nationally. “We could not have done this research without the survey tools to identify leading companies,” said Daniel Ellerman, senior manager, inclusion and diversity at Accenture Talent and HR services. “We were able to do the analysis and really understand the practices and policies that identified disability inclusion champions and then compare their financial performance with their peers,” he explained.

What Is The Disability Equality Index?

The DEI was developed by Disability:IN, to offer businesses a low-cost opportunity to receive an objective score on their disability inclusion policies and practices. Over the past four years, top companies including Comcast NBC Universal, CVS Health, Fidelity, JPMorgan Chase, Merck, Voya Financial, Walmart and others have registered and taken the survey to get their score (a rating from 0 to 100). “We are all looking for opportunities to continually drive positive change,” says Angela Harrell, chief diversity and corporate responsibility officer at Voya Financial. “It’s a process that requires a commitment at every level of the company.”

Speaking on a panel about the DEI, David Casey, vice president of workforce strategies and chief diversity officer a CVS Health said, “This is not a softball of a test.” (CVS Health has completed the 30-to-40-hour-long assessment more than once.) Casey, who also sits on the DEI Advisory Committee, said, “We are not calling businesses champions of disability without asking them to do the hard work of measuring what matters to people with disabilities and looking for ways to do better.” The DEI Advisory Committee is made up of a diverse group of people who have disabilities and/or have experience advocating for inclusion.

What Makes This Research Timely?

While the U.S. economy added 250,000 jobs in October, a record amount of hiring that has continued for months, only four out of 10 working-age Americans with disabilities are employed, One possible reason: Americans need to seriously rethink how to source, retain and re-skill talent with disabilities in a meaningful way. “Businesses have become more diverse, but they may not be inclusive,” said Kennedy. “Reproducing the same old diversity strategies won’t work for this community.”

The AAPD, Disability:IN and Accenture Research recognize that changing corporate culture is tough, but they are taking it to step by step: “This will be a journey for most companies. Taking the DEI is a starting point that helps the entire company understand how to begin being more inclusive,” Kennedy said, adding that “all of us must spread the word and tell people that we can now make a compelling financial argument for employing people with disabilities. As the largest minority group in the country, we cannot be ignored.”

Will The Financial World Pay Attention?

New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli is a supporter of the changes the report outlines and the push to expand opportunities for people with disabilities. Speaking at the New York Stock Exchange event unveiling of the report, he ended his remarks with: What would happen if I sent a letter to every one of our vendors and asked, “How do you rank on the DEI?”. He is clearly laying the groundwork for prodding companies to start measuring what matters. His message from the top: let’s make a commitment to strengthening policies and practices around disability inclusion.

If You Aren’t Familiar With The DEI, you can read the Frequently Asked Questions section on their website, here. While it is not the only measurement tool out on the market, it is one of the most comprehensive—going far beyond what the ADA already requires of companies, such as access to buildings, transportation and equal opportunity for employment. DEI categories include culture and leadership, enterprise-wide access, employment best practices (such as education retention and advancement.) The survey also includes questions on supplier diversity, community engagement, and assessment of non-U.S. operations.


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