In terms of Diversity and Equality initiatives, Disability is often overlooked among the protected characteristics of ethnicity, gender and social background. Yet it intersects all, and Disability is the one grouping that we can all become part of one day: either through illness, accident, or ageing. Disability Inclusion is fast becoming a key focus for business and wider society. The aptitudes of initiative, creative problem-solving, adaptability and resilience are often particularly strong within this community of people who are used to meeting challenges and barriers within society and its systems. These unique skill-sets are often sought-after and organisations such (1) as NASA and Microsoft are reported to actively seek neurodiverse talent. The momentum for change is growing, and it is time for a reset and a new business agenda for disability inclusion. There is still a long way to go but the pandemic has accelerated this, as we have all had to adapt. We need to move from seeing disability as a discretional interest, an inspiration or charitable. We need to recognise the value and insight growth that disabled people bring.
It has been three decades since the Disability Discrimination Act signalled a milestone in the struggle for equality of disabled people and over ten since The Equality Act (2). Yet, progress is still frustratingly slow. Businesses need to make room for disabled talent on the team, acknowledge their expert input, and have the resources to implement their guidance. Exclusion from the workplace still makes headlines, such as the story of Karine Elharrar who was prevented from attending the 2021 UN COP summit at Glasgow due to poor access. The event was embarrassing for the UN and the conference organisers. The disability community are often met with situations where systems are not designed with them in mind, and hence produce a barrier. Another acute embarrassment was when the UK government’s National Disability Strategy 2021 was ruled unlawful. The consultation process did not adequately include disabled people, and hence the entire strategy was rejected.
Focus on this complex ethical issue is long overdue.
At a time when diversity and inclusion are important topics, the 15% of the global population who have a disability want effective change to eliminate the inequality and inactivity. The Valuable 500 has persuaded business leaders to put Disability Inclusion on their corporate agenda. Another important campaign, #Wethe15, uses the focus on sport as a catalyst to focus on accessibility. Over the next decade international organisations from the world of sport, human rights, policy, communications, business, arts and entertainment will be brought together in the biggest ever movement to end discrimination.
Please take a moment to reflect on how accessible your business is to this large section of society, as part of your team and as your client or customer. Then make a commitment to being open to learning more about the role you can take to be a part of change.
It is not only ethical to do so but makes good business sense too. The best way to achieve this is to include disabled talent in your diversity recruitment.
Dr Jo Gooding (she/her) is an educator, researcher, and expert in design for disability. She is experienced in inclusive design, conducting research, mentoring entrepreneurs, and delivers reviews and workshops on Disability Inclusive Design. She is co-founder of a consultancy supporting business in the adaptive fashion and clothing sector. If you would like to know more, please contact her at email@example.com or through LinkedIn
(1) Approximately 1 in 5 people have dyslexia, and it circulated the internet that up to 50% of NASA employees were dyslexic.( Since dismissed by NASA)
(2) Disability Discrimination Act 1992 - Equality Act 2010