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Why disability inclusion matters to businesses

Why disability inclusion matters to businesses

Recognizing the value of the world's largest minority group

Recognizing the value of the world's largest minority group

According to the United Nations (UN), the official unemployment rate for people with disabilities in most developed countries is found to be at least twice as much as those without disabilities. In developing countries, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities of working age, generally aged 15 to 64, is as high as 80% or more.

Today many people still consider “disability and unemployment” mainly as a human rights issue affecting only people with disabilities: the world’s largest minority group. This mindset has to change, as there is growing evidence on how disability inclusion is not merely crucial to people with disabilities: it brings positive influence to businesses and would be indeed a solution for global economy and many other aspects.

Alarming unemployment rates

The UN estimates that over 380 million of working-age people in the world have some kind of disability. In Switzerland, the estimated number of people with disabilities is around 1.7 million. As reported by the Swiss Federal Statistical Office, 68% of this population with age between 16 and 64 are employed. For those with severe disabilities, the employment rate sinks to only 42%.

Compared to the United States, where only 29% of people with disabilities in working age are employed, Switzerland shows much better achievements in engaging people with disabilities in the labor market. However, Switzerland’s employment rate of people with disabilities is nevertheless at least 15% lower than that of people without disabilities. The Swiss federal government and companies have the obligation to extend their efforts to put disability inclusion in full practice.

Population by labor force status and disability status, July 2018

Based on data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. has a wide employment gap between people with and without disabilities. (Source:

A solution for the global workforce crisis

In 2014, Boston Consulting Group (BCG), a global management consulting firm, conducted a study to calculate and estimate the extent of labor shortage or surplus in 25 countries between 2020 and 2030. For ten countries including Germany, Italy and France, BCG forecasted labor shortage for the current decade. Merely in Germany, it is estimated to fall short of labor demand by 8.4 million to 10 million people in 2030. In addition, the global labor demand is expected to rise due to falling birthrates and aging populations.

Importing foreign workers is a common solution against workforce crisis in many countries. Employers often fail to reckon the talents and support a large number of locals with disabilities can offer. A research report from the U.S. estimates that a workforce of more than 10.7 million people with disabilities will be available for companies that improve disability inclusion.

Everybody gains from disability inclusion.

People with disabilities are the hidden gems in society. They can be a solution for labor shortage if companies are willing to do more for disability inclusion at workplace. (Source: Twitter@ilo)

As stated in the BCG's study, labor shortage would impede the economic growth, leading to wage inflation, inhibiting business formation and development. By enhancing the disability inclusion in workplace, people with disabilities will have a better chance to be gainfully employed and thus help relieve the labor shortage issue. To do so, changing people's perspective is the key.

Myths and facts of inclusion

Misconceptions like people with disabilities are unable to work or it is costly to accommodate employees with disabilities are still common these days. However, different studies have proven them wrong.

One of these studies was carried out by Job Accommodation Network (JAN), a service funded by the US Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy. Since 2004, they have an on-going survey with over 2700 employers in the US. 776 of them provided JAN the cost information related to accommodations made for employees with disabilities. 58% said that the accommodations needed by their employees cost them nothing, because many existing office settings were already accessible. 37% needed a one-time cost whereas only 4% said the accommodation led to an ongoing, annual cost to the company. The survey also found out that the median one-time cost for an accommodation was as low as USD 500 per employee.

In 2018, Accenture together with Disability:IN and the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) conducted another research identifying the connection between disability inclusion policies and business performances. They found that companies with employee measures on disability inclusion do not only benefit from enhanced reputation, but also from increased innovation, higher productivity and improved market share. They point out,

“Having employees with disabilities across departments helps ensure that the products and services that go to market are truly inclusive.”

A great asset to companies

The forethought of people with disabilities, their unique perspective and willingness to experiment are valuable attributes much needed and wanted by all companies and businesses. A diverse work setting featuring people with and without disabilities will help employees without disabilities consider things beyond their imagination and experience. These can be accessibility challenges faced by colleagues with disabilities, or the development of inclusive products and business plans.

Employees with disabilities are great assets to companies.

Employees with disabilities are great assets to companies and businesses. (Source: Freepik)

In contrast to what many employers would think, employees with disabilities can be more reliable and loyal than those without disabilities. Several studies found that people with disabilities have equal or less accidents at work than their colleagues without disabilities. People with disabilities also stay in jobs longer than other workers. This helps lower turnover and maintain business efficiency, as it saves companies from frequent recruitment and retraining of new employees.

Any effort of disability inclusion by a company can make a difference. What is your experience with disability inclusion at work as a business owner or a person with disabilities?

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