On October 2, employers and corporate leaders gathered at The Viscardi Center headquarters in New York for the National Business & Disability Council’s (NBDC) Annual National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) celebration. Each year, this event serves to recognize the significant impact people with disabilities make on organizations as employees, and highlight the key issues and barriers facing people with disability as it relates to employment.
This year’s celebration mirrored the 2019 national NDEAM campaign theme, “The Right Talent, Right Now.” John D. Kemp, president & CEO of The Viscardi Center, opened the event by acknowledging employers’ increased access to educated, well-qualified candidates with disabilities.
Dr. Rohini Anand, Global Senior Vice President of Corporate Responsibility and Global Chief Diversity Officer for Sodexo, delivered the event’s keynote address. As a world-renowned leader on organizational change and diversity & inclusion, Dr. Anand has guided Sodexo’s team of 460,000 employees to admirable heights. Under her leadership, Sodexo has ranked in DiversityInc’s Top 10 Companies for Diversity for nine consecutive years, and in 2018 was one of the first companies to be inducted into DiversityInc’s Top 50 Hall of Fame.
This year’s NDEAM celebration also honored Srin Madipalli, and the In-Home Accessibility Team, of Airbnb by presenting them with the inaugural NBDC Trailblazers for Disability Inclusion Award. Srin is a product manager at Airbnb, where he focuses on making travel easier for people with disabilities. He is the embodiment of an entrepreneurial dream. A former attorney turned developer, in 2015, he and a friend founded Accomable, a travel platform for people with disabilities. In 2017, it was acquired by Airbnb and Srin began working for the Airbnb team in early 2018.
While NBDC’s entire NDEAM celebration provided important strategies for employers to consider as they work to foster more disability inclusive workplaces, here are five key takeaways from the event:
- People with disabilities are the solution to employers’ talent problems – Employers today have more access to highly educated individuals with disabilities than ever before. In his opening remarks, John D. Kemp, president and CEO of The Viscardi Center reminded employers that educational systems are preparing and graduating more people with disabilities than ever before. Programs like The Viscardi Center have well-prepared, highly educated job candidates with disabilities that are ready and qualified for work.
- Businesses must commit to changing narratives and addressing bias about employees with disabilities – Unconscious bias remains the number one barrier to disability inclusive hiring. In her keynote speech, Dr. Anand shared insight into the consistent theme of hearing more about exclusion than inclusion, and the lack of abilities than different and complementary abilities. Just as Sodexo has demonstrated, businesses have the power to change these narratives.“It is critical that corporations with partnerships with the public sector speak up and amplify the narrative and benefits that come when we embrace and encourage every kind of ability,” shared Dr. Anand. “Today’s CEOs have become more vocal about confronting the ‘isms,’ and about encouraging employees to do the same. We must ensure we expand our conversations to include people with disabilities.”
- Non-apparent disabilities are too often overlooked in business – Today, more than 70 percent of people with disabilities have non-apparent disabilities. Many organizations and corporations do not address this, causing candidates and employees not to disclose or seek support. This can ultimately affect a company’s bottom line. Continuing to serve as a model for inclusion, Sodexo recently launched a campaign to make their employees more aware of non-apparent disabilities and shift the overall culture of inclusion. The video campaign profiles Sodexo employees with non-apparent disabilities who are assets to their teams, serving as innovators, champions and mentors. It encourages disability disclosure, challenging employees to “keep learning, understanding and supporting one another. There is more to all of us than you might know. Open up.”
- Businesses should partner with others to increase disability inclusion efforts – According to statistics Dr. Anand shared in her keynote address, if more people with disabilities were to enter the labor force, the U.S. GDP could get a boost of up to 25 billion dollars. This increase in employment will only occur if companies make intentional efforts to focus on partnering with communities and organizations like NBDC to reach qualified individuals with disabilities. Companies that overlook or deny employees with disabilities are not only excluding the individuals, but are overlooking opportunities for innovation, creative ideas, and ultimately revenue drivers.
- Businesses must develop strategies to address structural challenges, including recruitment, disclosure, and accountability – Many companies struggle to hire and retain employees with disabilities due to internal structural challenges. Concerns regarding recruitment, disclosure, accountability, limited resources, and competing internal programs can hinder businesses from providing more disability-friendly workplaces.Solutions do exist to address these concerns. Sodexo has developed a four-tier strategy to address disability inclusion. This strategy includes having a clear business case for inclusion; gaining leadership buy-in and engagement; building an integrated strategy that focuses on all levels of engagement; and building measurable disability-focused goals.
Creating workplaces where everyone can succeed to their fullest potential is critical for business growth. There is undeniable evidence that inclusion works: it increases employee engagement and productivity, improves company culture, and often as a result, strengthens financial outcomes. A thoughtful inclusion program also helps reduce turnover, decrease recruitment costs, and increase labor pools.
With champions and trailblazers like Dr. Rohini Anand and Srin Madipalli at the helm, the future for disability inclusive workplaces is promising.