The results of the Disability Equality Index, an annual survey that measures the of inclusion of people with disabilities in the workplace, were released on August 23. The index shows that America’s large corporations have improved their practices in respect to actively recruiting people with disabilities, but progress is slower when it comes to hiring and professional development.
The DEI is a partnership between the American Association of People with Disabilities and the U.S. Business Leadership Network. It allows U.S. companies the opportunity to self-report their progress on disability inclusion.
“These are companies that either are doing well or want to do well. The whole point of the survey is to help businesses know how to do well. A lot of businesses may want to employ people with disabilities, but they don’t know how exactly to include them in the right way, so this helps them figure that out,” says Kelly Buckland, executive director of the National Council for Independent Living who serves on the DEI advisory committee.
“We continue to train participating companies through webinars and resources so they can continue to do well on the DEI, as the questions are shaped more towards what the disability community would like to see. The majority of these companies don’t even want to take the survey until they can get at least 80 percent and be publicly acknowledged,” he says.
The number of companies who see the DEI as worthwhile has steadily increased. When the survey first launched, in 2013, only 48 corporations participated. In 2017, 110 corporations took part and a record 68 companies received a perfect score, including Starbucks, AMC, Microsoft, Wells Fargo, Walmart, P&G and Walgreens, to name a few.
“Many of the companies that have been active with the USBLN … over the life of the DEI have made dramatic improvements that go beyond awareness. We have many companies doing a lot of great work that includes hiring, retention and development, and the reason it’s becoming more sustainable is because they’re linking it to positive business outcomes,” says Deborah Dagit, a consultant with the USBLN.
By working toward a more inclusive workforce, companies have seen improvements in productivity, overall employee engagement, reduced turnover and increased innovation. Despite the business benefits, the DEI still shows a lack of practical support in getting a job and keeping it.
Only 39 percent of respondents make candidates aware they can ask for accommodation during an interview and only 15 percent allow those with disabilities to opt out of additional screening tests (only 5 percent provide alternatives). Only 39 percent of companies have advancement and retention policies that specifically mention people with disabilities and only 8 percent have benefits coverage that extends to personal support workers.
Dagit says that much of this takes time to implement. Instituting company-wide inclusion policies can be a slow, complicated process for large corporations. “It’s not that you can’t get it done, but turning the proverbial elephant around in a bathtub takes some thought,” she says.