A disabilities challenge for American employers

Ted Kennedy, Jr. and Tom DiNapoli

Newsday

Aug 8, 2019

Twenty-nine years after the Americans with Disabilities Act became law, the employment landscape for people with disabilities remains troubling. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found that only 30.4 percent of those ages 16 to 64 with a disability are employed, compared to 74 percent for persons without a disability. Additionally, employment numbers have improved only marginally over the past 10 years for the nearly 61 million people in the disability community in the U.S.

These dismal statistics are surprising, given a 2018 report, “Getting to Equal: The Disability Inclusion Advantage,” by Accenture, Disability: IN, and the American Association of People with Disabilities, that demonstrates that companies that have embraced best practices for employing people with disabilities have significantly outperformed their peers. This includes 28 percent higher revenue, double the net income, and 30 percent higher economic profit margins. Additionally, including people with disabilities increases innovation, improves productivity and fosters a better work environment. Embracing equality, diversity, and inclusiveness is increasingly critical to the long-term business success of corporations in the global marketplace.

Earlier this year, a coalition of many of the nation’s largest institutional investors and asset managers, representing more than $2 trillion in combined assets, signed a joint investor statement calling on corporate America to do more to include people with disabilities in the workforce. The investors’ statement specifies the best practices and recommendations that corporate leaders can implement to fully recognize and benefit from the value of including people with disabilities in their workplaces.

This includes establishing public, company-wide hiring goals for people with disabilities and measuring progress over time, ensuring that diversity and inclusion statements encompass people with disabilities, communicating senior executive support for disability-focused employee resource groups, and developing a supplier diversity program that includes disability-owned and service-disabled veteran-owned business enterprises. This shareholder engagement initiative also is supported by many of the nation’s leading disability organizations and advocacy groups.

Also, we urge corporations that have not already done so to participate in the Disability Equality Index (DEI). Since it was started in 2015, corporate participation in the DEI among Fortune 500 and 1000 companies has grown more than 150 percent. The index provides corporations with a comprehensive assessment of their disability inclusion practices and identifies opportunities to gain a competitive advantage by improving those practices.

Disability inclusion is a significant next chapter in the ongoing and likely never-ending civil rights movement. It’s also an important next frontier in shareholder engagement, corporate social responsibility, and ESG investing — the acronym stands for environmental, social, and governance. We will continue to champion and demand change until people with disabilities are fully recognized where we live and work.

We will soon see how corporations respond to this new challenge. Consumers, employees, families — and investors — will be watching.

Ted Kennedy Jr., an amputee and survivor of childhood bone cancer, is a health care lawyer and civil rights activist for people with disabilities and board chair of the American Association of People with Disabilities. Thomas P. DiNapoli is the comptroller of New York and trustee of the state Common Retirement Fund.