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A call to action for America’s CEOs: Show your commitment to inclusion of people with disabilities

July 26, 2020, 3:00 PM UTC
Americans With Disabilities at work.
On the 30th anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act, CEOs must commit to inclusion for people with disabilities, write Jill Houghton and Rod Martin.
Morsa Images/Getty Images

In the midst of the unprecedented environment that all businesses are currently navigating—and will continue to be navigating for the foreseeable future—few would argue that opportunities to deliver improved business performance are now more important than ever. Similarly, at a time when society is calling on all organizations, especially businesses, to be inclusive, a clear way to demonstrate a commitment to inclusion and equality for a group that comprises one in four U.S. adults would seem to be an obvious choice for any CEO.

As the U.S. celebrates the 30th anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) today, we offer a simple solution for CEOs to take a meaningful step forward in advancing inclusion for a segment of the U.S. population that totals more than 60 million people of every race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and gender identity—a minority group that anyone can join at any time. We respectfully call on all CEOs to have their company participate in the Disability Equality Index (DEI), the leading corporate benchmarking tool for disability equality.

The DEI, which is administered by two nonprofit organizations—the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) and Disability:IN (Jill runs the latter)—provides an unbiased and confidential way to benchmark disability inclusion in the workplace. Given the correlation between disability inclusion and business performance, this is increasingly important to all stakeholder groups. The Accenture report Getting to Equal: The Disability Inclusion Advantage, produced in partnership with the AAPD and Disability:IN, found that companies that offered inclusive working environments for employees with disabilities achieved an average of 28% higher revenue, 30% higher profit margins, and two times higher income than industry peers. 

Many companies have embraced the understanding that disability inclusion in the workplace isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s also good for business. In fact, 247 companies participated in the DEI this year. However, more needs to be done. To illustrate the need for urgent action, according to the U.S. Labor Department, the June labor force participation rate for people with disabilities was 21%—compared with 67.1% for people without disabilities—an alarming difference that was in place prior to the economic impact of COVID-19. This disparity should be troubling to everyone.

Understanding the need for action by their peers, the CEOs of 15 companies—Accenture, Best Buy, Boston Scientific, Bristol Myers Squibb, CVS Health, Discover Financial Services, Grant Thornton LLP, Intel, Microsoft, Siemens USA, TD Bank, T-Mobile, Voya Financial, Walmart, and ZVRS/Purple Communications—recently signed a joint letter requesting Fortune 1000 CEOs to participate in the DEI. They wrote, “We have experienced firsthand, within our companies, the potential for innovation, sustainability, and profit as a result of disability inclusion. It is important to us, now more than ever, to drive companies aligned with corporate values and meaningful purpose. Without disability inclusion, we will fail to build sustainable futures that empower all.”

The business case for disability inclusion in the workplace is also compelling on a macroeconomic level. As noted in the above letter, “At a larger scale, we stand to boost the American GDP by up to $25 billion if we hire just 1% of the untapped talent with disabilities.” The letter also noted that investor interest—along with that of regulators and legislators—on the topic of workplace disability inclusion is increasing at an accelerated pace.

While there is much to celebrate in the progress that has been made since the ADA was created in 1990, there is still a great deal of work to be done. The ADA’s 30th anniversary provides us all the opportunity to put a spotlight on this issue and drive home how disability inclusion positively impacts individuals and families—and contributes to improved business performance.

We ask every CEO for their much-needed help in advancing equality and inclusion at a time when the need to make sure that no one is marginalized has never been more important.

Jill Houghton is president and CEO of Disability:IN.

Rod Martin is chairman and CEO of Voya Financial.

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