When your company thinks about building a culture of belonging, does it think beyond race and gender? Has your C-suite considered inclusion for persons with disabilities? If not, it’s time. Disability crosses every demographic. To create truly equitable workplaces, it must be part of any company’s diversity, equity, and inclusion journey.
Worldwide, there are 1.3 billion people living with disabilities, but this group is generally a missing piece in the global conversation about diversity, equity, and inclusion. While the Americans with Disabilities Act is three decades old, people with disabilities still cannot find work. Studies that involved sending mock job applications found people who disclosed disability received 26 percent fewer expressions of employer interest. In the first six months of the COVID-19 pandemic, one in five workers with disabilities were dismissed from employment compared to one in seven generally.
As a result, people with disabilities disproportionately face income inequality and low labor force participation. Nearly half of people in poverty either identify as disabled themselves, or live with someone who has a disability. About eight in 10 people living with a disability were not in the labor force in 2021 compared to just three in 10 individuals without a disability.
What Are the Benefits of Disability Inclusion?
Implementing policies and practices to improve inclusion for persons with disabilities is the right thing to do—morally, but economically as well. There are clear business benefits of disability inclusion.
By investing in training, research, and data collection, companies see significant gains in profitability, innovation, shareholder value, and reputation. Research from Accenture shows companies that embrace best practices for employing and supporting persons with disabilities in their workforces have outperformed their peers. Specifically, these companies have seen:
- 28 percent higher revenue;
- 30 percent better performance on economic profit margins; and
- Two times higher net income.
Boston Scientific Global Chief DEI Officer Camille Chang Gilmore said companies that have embraced inclusion for persons with disabilities get a major “lift” in employee retention. During a trip to a job training site, CVS Health Chief Diversity Officer David Casey spoke with the father of a 24-year-old woman living with a disability who had recently been hired by CVS Health. No employer had ever given his daughter a chance, the father said. Because CVS Health did, the family would be “lifelong customers.”
One of the chief benefits of disability inclusion for hospitals and providers, is improved patient care. According to an April 2021 Health Affairs article, 82 percent of U.S. physicians believe people living with significant disabilities have worse quality of life than nondisabled people. People with disabilities “receive significantly poorer care and treatment than those who are not disabled,” wrote Andrés J. Gallegos, chair of the National Council on Disability who lives with effects of a spinal cord injury resulting in quadriplegia. “The existence and extent of those health disparities often have nothing to do with disability … They have everything to do with how physicians see us and how they treat us.”
Leveraging Data Will Improve Inclusion for Persons with Disabilities
Data is key to improving workforce inclusion for persons with disabilities. Even government employers are getting into the act. In 2019, then-Acting U.S. Labor Secretary Patrick Pizzella sent letters to all 50 governors encouraging that they create data collection systems to track state employment of people with disabilities. In 2018, the Pennsylvania legislature approved a bill requiring that state and county agencies, and entities that provide services to individuals with disabilities, collect baseline data showing how many people with disabilities they employ.
Tools like the Disability Equality Index (DEI) provide comprehensive benchmarking to help organizations build and follow a roadmap for disability inclusion. The point of the DEI is to understand where to begin, where they have improved year-over-year, and where growth still is needed.
Completing the DEI was one of the first steps Boston Scientific took on its diversity, equity, and inclusion journey. “We had no idea where to start,” said Chang Gilmore. “But we started somewhere, and I think that’s the most important part. Start with something, and you will gain momentum.” After initially earning a middling score, Boston Scientific now scores 100, Chang Gilmore noted. (Companies that score between 80 and 100 receive “best place to work” designations for disability inclusion.)
As the United States’ leading corporate benchmarking tool for disability inclusion, the DEI measures six key areas: culture and leadership, enterprise-wide accessibility, employment practices, community engagement, supplier diversity, and non-U.S. operations. In 2021, 319 corporations utilized the DEI. The health care sector has one of the highest industry participation rates.
Models for Your Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Journey
One barrier that may prevent organizations from starting their diversity, equity, and inclusion journey is the worry that they employ few people with disabilities. That perception is generally incorrect, however, and encouraging workers to self-identify can correct that belief.
How can organizations encourage self-identification? Employees feel more secure in making disclosures when there are prominent champions for inclusion for persons with disabilities within the organization. Chang Gilmore noted that when she came on as Boston Scientific’s chief diversity officer, she immediately heard from individuals living with disabilities. “They were coming out because they thought it was safe to do so,” she explained.
They also established employee resource groups, held disability-specific training sessions, facilitated discussions among company leaders to define what is meant by disability inclusion, and conducted focus groups so people with disabilities could share their stories. Chang Gilmore said these programs help companies “build muscle” for improving inclusion for persons with disabilities.
CVS Health has been building this muscle for more than a generation. The company’s Workforce Initiatives team has developed relationships with vocational rehabilitation agencies, nonprofits, and schools to provide job coaching, mentoring, training, and support to people with disabilities who are entering the workforce. The company’s Abilities In Abundance program operates eight mock store training sites throughout the country.
Boston Scientific and CVS Health also were two of the first companies to sign Disability:IN’s CEO Letter on Disability Inclusion. The letter asked corporate leaders to embrace the Diversity Equality Index as a way to build better products, stronger workforces, and innovative supply chains. Chang Gilmore said signing the letter created a “community” to share best practices and experiences. “It really is important for us to think about what we can do collectively,” she said.
Casey said the letter is an important metric to be able to show investors. In fact, it’s now a “must have” in this regard. “I think the investor community is going to be the difference maker in really getting sustainable traction and having disability included in the conversation,” he argued.
Prospective employees also are interested in seeing a company’s commitment to inclusion for persons with disabilities. A 2021 Skillsoft survey found 93 percent of employees believe that being more inclusive of people with intellectual disabilities would help company culture. Last December, Moody’s Investors Service predicted staffing shortages and increased labor costs will fuel higher expenses and lower operating cash flow for health systems. The hospital workforce is down 90,000 employees since March 2020 and the American Nurses Association expects there will be more than 100,000 registered nursing jobs available annually starting this year.
Disability inclusion is not just the right thing to do. To continuing providing quality, affordable care, it’s the must thing to do.
The Nashville Health Care Council and Disability:IN recently hosted a virtual webinar, “Disability Inclusion: Building Inclusive Culture,” to explore how business leaders can promote workplace inclusion for persons with disabilities. Panelists highlighted the benefits of disability inclusion; shared insight into their company’s diversity, equity, and inclusion journeys; and discussed the tools that best promote a culture of belonging. For more information on upcoming programs like this one, visit healthcarecouncil.com.
- Ted Kennedy, Jr., immediate past chair, American Association of People with Disabilities; co-chair, Disability Equality Index; and partner, Epstein Becker Green
- David Casey, senior vice president of workforce strategies and chief diversity officer, CVS Health; board member, Disability:IN; co-chair, Disability Equality Index
- Camille Chang Gilmore, vice president and global chief diversity, equity, and inclusion officer, Boston Scientific Corporation; board member, Disability:IN