Hey Corporate America! Isn't it time to embed 'disability' across the entire business enterprise

By John D. Kemp, President & CEO of The Viscardi Center, and Brandon M. Macsata, General Consultant, National Business & Disability Council (NBDC) at The Viscardi Center

In 2013, Dorie Clark outlined in Forbes Magazine how societal acceptance toward the LGBT community was transforming the modern day business enterprise.[1]

For businesses to remain relevant and successful, in fact, they are constantly changing modernizing embracing new, innovative strategies. Clark’s advise to business could be easily replicated to another emerging market in the United States and globally: people with disabilities.

Best practice Not really. Common sense Maybe. But moving forward in today’s fast-paced, technology-driven business environment, Corporate America must embed disability equality and fairness practices in its entire business enterprise if it is ever to achieve a competitive advantage. Failure awaits businesses that ignore the last, large remaining untapped talent pool in the United States, which also happens to represent the fastest growing market globally.

To achieve this competitive edge, Corporate America should adopt these five business strategies:

  • Include ‘Ability’ in Diversity

Successful companies have learned that diversity yields better ingenuity, resourcefulness, and productivity in the workplace. Disability or also known as ‘diverse ability’ as referenced by EY in the workplace should be embraced the same way that companies seek gender, and racial diversity, among others.

EY has achieved this objective by asking, “Can this work better[2] As a company, challenges at EY are tackled by bringing different perspectives from all of their employees to the table. Their unique approach has leveraged ethnic diversity, gender, sexual orientation, military service, and ability. It has worked, too, as evidenced by EY being widely recognized by its peers as a model employer.

  • Embrace ‘Accommodation’ as a ‘Productivity Tool’

Whereas federal law requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to its employees with a qualified disability, that risk-adverse strategy is fast becoming a relic. Personalization is the key to providing the workplace accommodations proven to make employees more productive. In fact, an evolving business-savvy strategy centers on providing ‘productivity tools’ in the workplace, regardless of disability. It is far more effective strategy, than the age-old legal one. Reasonable accommodations should be available to benefit of all employees.

Look no further than IBM’s leading human-centric solutions. Regardless of age or disability, IBM redefines personalization as it continually changes workplace accessibility using cutting-edge technology-based solutions. The applications being applied by this global corporate giant are even more relevant considering 10,000 people will turn 65 every day for the next 15 years.[3]

  • Leverage Accessible Technologies

With new technologies emerging daily comes an opening to transform the traditional workplace into a digital laboratory for innovation. Just as physical barriers have been largely been removed, it is time for companies to remove the virtual barriers that still exist.

A recent public opinion survey conducted by Cygnal commissioned by the National Business & Disability Council (NBDC) at The Viscardi Center found that nearly all consumers (91%) would be more likely to support a business that takes steps to ensure easy access for people with disabilities at their physical locationsand its website. As a society, we don’t tolerate buildings that are physically inaccessible, so why should we expect anything less of the digital offerings

Increasingly, Chief Technology Officers (CTOs) are urging their companies to integrate accessibility into the “DNA” of their corporate culture. Improved accessibility is increasingly seen as more than an enhancement, but rather a prerequisite to all facets of the business enterprise including security, compliance, technical training, and procurement.[4]

  • Envision Broader Applications

The development of new products and services should envision broader applications, beyond – but always inclusive of – disability. The changing demographics in the United States provide enough evidence, as increasingly there exists an intersection between the aging Baby Boomers and more people self-identifying their disabilities. Additionally, Latinos, the largest ethnic minority group in the U.S., represents both a challenge as well as an opportunity because many speak English as a second language.

For example, approximately 100 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube every minute, and YouTube has taken steps to provide closed captioning as a standard user-option. It is an important strategic decision because closed captioning assists more than people who are Deaf or hard of hearing; in fact, most people who use closed captioning on YouTube don’t have any hearing impairment.[5]

  • Promote Inclusive Marketing

Ensuring that people with disabilities see themselves and their needs reflected in policies, practices, products and services represents the new frontier for businesses. Globally, consumers with disabilities represent even a larger share of the potential market segment. In 2013, it was reported in The Global Economics of Disability, “People with disabilities (PWD) are a large global market. With an estimated population of 1.3 billion, PWD are an emerging market the size of China.”[6]

Several powerhouses, including JC Penney, Nordstrom and Nike, have already embraced this strategy. Both retail giants have established themselves as trendsetters by including mannequins (and models) with disabilities in their marketing, and in the case of JC Penney, their stores.[7] Meanwhile, Nike recently launched a new line of shoes with their “easy-entry footwear system.”[8]

The modern day business enterprise should reflect the changing world around it to succeed. Disability can no longer be relegated to charity, compliance or an after-thought; in fact, it must be embedded in all facets of the corporate psyche. Businesses that ignore the third largest consumer market in the United States, and the fastest growing market globally, do so at their own peril.

[1] Dorie Clark, Forbes Magazine, “How To Stay Relevant In A Changing Business Environment,” July 9, 2013.

[2] EY, “Diverse abilities help us build a better working world,” 2016. Last accessed online; http://www.ey.com/US/en/About-us/Our-people-and-culture/Diversity-and-inclusiveness/Unleashing-our-full-abilities

[3] IBM, “IBM Accessibility: Redefining Personalization,” July 17, 2015. Last accessed online at; .

[4] Edward Qualtrough, CIO, “Assistive technology, accessibility and working with a disability in tech,” July 30, 2015. Last accessed online at; http://www.cio.co.uk/insight/workforce-development/accessible-it-assistive-technology-disability-in-tech-3621468/.

[5] The National, “How disabilities are changing big business,” September 17, 2014. Last accessed online at; .

[6] Fifth Quadrant Analytics, The Return on Disability Company, “The Global Economics of Disability; Annual Report,” April 2013.

[7] Sara Jane Fair, Easter Seals Blog, “Mannequins who have disabilities why not,” August 18, 2014. Last accessed online at; http://blog.easterseals.com/mannequins-who-have-disabilities-why-not/.

[8] Shaun Heasley, Disability Scoop, “Nike Unveils Shoes For People With Special Needs,” July 15, 2015. Last accessed online at; https://www.disabilityscoop.com/2015/07/15/nike-unveils-shoes/20440/.

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