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As corporate disability inclusion practices improve, uneven adoption remains

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Companies are making strides in implementing more disability inclusion practices throughout their corporate culture, but several key areas need sustained attention in coming years, according to a July 10 report from the 2023 Disability Equality Index by Disability:IN and the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD).

For instance, more than 90% of companies encourage their employees with disabilities to self-identify, which has increased in recent years. However, voluntary self-identification remains low, around 4.5%, and only 7% of companies report disability representation on their board of directors.

“Boards govern more effectively when members bring a diversity of abilities and perspectives to the table, but disability continues to lag behind gender and ethnicity in board diversity considerations,” Ted Kennedy, Jr., co-chair of the Disability Equality Index and board member of AAPD, said in a statement.

“We strongly encourage companies to seek out, appoint and report on board-level disability representation to achieve their corporate social responsibility commitments and catalyze opportunities for the 1.3 billion people with disabilities around the world,” he said.

This year, 485 corporations across 30 industries used the index to benchmark their disability inclusion efforts, marking a 17% increase in participation from last year. In addition, more than 70% of the Fortune 100 and nearly half of the Fortune 500 participated.

Several metrics showed improvement from 2022. About 93% of corporations encourage their employees with disabilities to self-identify, up from 91% in 2022. In addition, 72% market directly to the disability community by depicting people with disabilities in their external or internal marketing or advertising materials, up from 70%. About 64% also have a requirement to make their digital products accessible and usable for people with disabilities, up from 62%.

At the same time, some areas had uneven adoption. About 69% of companies issue annual diversity reports, yet only 24% include disability data. Despite generally high rates of digital product accessibility, only 40% audit their internally facing digital products for accessibility. 

The median voluntary corporate self-identification rate rose to 4.5%, up from 4% in 2022, yet it doesn’t reflect the 15% of the population directly affected by disability. Creating a disability inclusive culture remains critical for increasing self-identification rates and attracting workers with disabilities, according to the report.

The same applies to corporate governance, where people with disabilities appear to be drastically underrepresented. Few companies — only 7% — incorporate disability into their definition of board diversity or documents that outline the nomination of corporate directors. Even fewer disclose board-level disability figures, which can make it tough to track representation at leadership levels.

“While promising progress has been made, there is more work to be done,” Jill Houghton, president and CEO of Disability:IN, said in the statement.

“As we look to the future of the [index], we’ll set our focus on critical action areas that we believe have the potential to create meaningful change for people with disabilities in business,” she said.

Most companies have low identification rates for employees with disabilities, typically ranging between 4% to 7%, according to a recent report. In reality, about 25% of employees may self-identify as having a disability or limiting medical condition. This gap in reporting — as well as the hesitance to self-report to an employer — has major implications for inclusion and employee experience.

Employers can foster inclusion in several ways, according to a recent SHRM23 session, by considering reasonable accommodations, dropping stereotypes about certain physical and mental impairments and engaging in ongoing, interactive conversations with colleagues.

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