How can we make sure that disability is firmly on the D&I agenda for all organisations?

19 February, 2018
Fleur Bothwick

I wonder if you have ever heard Caroline Casey talk about the business case for a focus on disability. If you haven’t heard of her I would highly recommend her Ted Talk or any of her recent videos for her #valuable campaign. She reminds us that one billion people across the world live with some form of disability. ‘Despite the international drive for workplace equality, the value of those one billion people is routinely disregarded by the most powerful force on the planet: business. The impact of this is the continued disproportionate societal exclusion of 15% of our global population.’

I love to hear her speak because for so long I have questioned why disability isn’t on company D&I agendas. There is usually gender and often there is LGBT+, but despite the fact that it is estimated that 12.5% of the workforce in the private sector are disabled, companies are slow to focus on this topic (and 78% of disabled people acquire their disability over the age of 16).

I’m thinking a lot about Caroline and her vision at the moment. Not just because she trekked 1,000km across South America to launch her campaign, but also she gave the most stunning key note speech at a conference I hosted at the end of last year to look at taking the disability agenda global. 

We welcomed 90 guests from across the public and private sector and had the most engaging day with the best of the best speakers.  We looked at the global business case led by Susan Scott-Parker from BDI, how we can broaden the talent pool we recruit from led by Helen Cooke of MyPlus Consulting and the power of storytelling led by Kate Nash of Purple Space interviewing Iain Wilkie, founder of the Employers Stammering network. We also heard from the dynamic trio from GSK, Microsoft and ATOS on workplace accessibility and then closed with a session on leading practice led by Charlotte Sweeney and showcasing the great work of Fujitsu with Kay Allen-Palmer from Diverse Advice. 

Now the challenge is to do something impactful with the outputs. The key message from our disabled colleagues had to be the suggestion that we think about a person’s strengths rather than the issues with their disability. Iain, as the EY Abilities Partner Sponsor has long since argued that a disabled person has the most incredible strengths to offer an organization – innovative thinking, tenacity, resilience, loyalty to name a few. The second theme was the power of storytelling – ask someone about themselves and let them be authentic. Then third was the power of networks. My personal takeaway from listening to someone like Hector Minto at Microsoft is that there is so much more we could be doing through technology that we just don’t know about – in fact Hector argues that all computer users would be more productive using accessible technology.

I really feel that we are reaching a tipping point in our push to get disability on the agenda. Kate Nash at Purple Space encouraged employers to light their buildings up in purple to mark the International Day of Persons with Disabilities on the 3rd December and we saw the most amazing response from both public and private sector in the UK. A couple of months ago, EY, unusually, released a video of one of our leaders talking to his people and it wasn’t subtitled. When I approached the communications team who produced the video they said that they were ‘miffed’ that I had raised this – I suggested that our deaf and hard of hearing employees might also have been ‘miffed’ that they couldn’t access the video.

I truly believe that this sort of conversation will now be rare at EY – what can you be doing at your organization to get your CEO signed up to a focus on disability?