Increasing Appointment of People with Disabilities to Administrative Positions Can Improve Accessibility

Published December 2, 2020

Diversity and inclusion, in the corporate and government arenas, have become "hot" issues, as these worlds have tried to keep up with demands for social changes. The efforts to include members of minority groups in decision making roles and progress in this direction have been well documented. However, while there has been progress in the effort, there remains a great deal of criticism that the administrative representation of members based on race, gender, and sexual representation is still often nominal and token. Even more disturbing is that representatives of people with disabilities on diversity decision making bodies has not even caught the attention it deserves.

Though over 90% of businesses profess a commitment to make diversity a priority, according to a 2020 Return on Disability report, only 4% of companies treat disability as part of these efforts. Launched recently at the World Economic Forum Annual Summit last year, the Valuable 500 states the problem and opportunity for unlocking the role of diversity among the disabled this way:

We need 500 national and multinational, private sector corporations to be the tipping-point for change and help unlock the social and economic value of people living with disabilities across the world. Because the potential of 1.3 billion should not be ignored.

The advantages of "full" diversity in leadership

To a great extent the reasons to increase the appointment of people with disabilities to leadership roles in our business and government worlds are the same as the reasons why these entities are working to bring leaders from other minority groups on board as administrative leaders, from corporate boards to the local PTA.

  1. The value of multiple points of view: Studies have shown that any business or government entity will benefit by increasing the breath of diversity on boards and other administrative bodies. It is only at this level that representatives of people with disabilities can truly speak strength to power. Actual members of minority groups in these positions will genuinely be able to advocate for and help advance the cause of diversity generally and accessibility specifically. All of the following enhancements to an organization rest upon this fundamental truth. To really educate a company about the benefits of accessibility and the many reasons for improving it, a person with disabilities needs to be in the proper leadership position to be listened to.
  2. Legal compliance: While larger enterprises have legal support to assist with compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and other related state and local laws and regulations, often these legal experts are unaware of specific issues that may be occurring at the granular level. A person with disabilities may be the greatest source of expertise to spot potential issues and bring them to the attention of compliance attorneys. This is a necessary role but only addresses the bare minimum value of people with disabilities in such roles.
  3. Bring practical knowledge to the decision making process: Most leaders don’t truly understand the basic definition of accessibility. Much of the people deciding how to address the issue in administrative groups still basically see the problem of one of physical accessibility focusing on such areas as ramps, elevators, and wider aisles. However the challenges presented by a lack of access to remote opportunities, basic data through improved digital accessibility, Braille signage, and the host of issues that technology can address, remain cloudy. Who better of course to audit these areas and make recommendations, bring in the appropriate resources, and follow through than people with disabilities themselves?
  4. Broadly diverse companies are found to be more profitable: Studies have demonstrated this fact. It only makes sense that when you are able to more fully comply with law, bring a broad perspective to the decision making process with diverse decision making, improve entity morale, and expand talent and customer pools, profits will increase. As Forbes puts it:
Companies with more culturally and ethnically diverse executive teams were 33% more likely to see better-than-average profits. In McKinsey’s previous study—conducted with 2014 numbers—that increase had been 35%. At the board of directors level, more ethnically and cultural diverse companies were 43% more likely to see above-average profits, showing a significant correlation between diversity and performance.

Leadership matters as more diverse companies are better able to challenge conventional wisdom, are less likely to take significant risks, more easily able to keep up with market trends and internal problems, and improve their reputation and brand.

Summary

Making these changes and bringing more people with disabilities into decision making positions should not be viewed as a burden or simply another step to stay ahead of legal or societal pressures. The effort should be viewed as a tremendous opportunity. According to the World Bank, more than one billion people around the world experience some form of disability. This represents 15% of the population. This represents a talent pool and market base with the combined scope of the United States, Brazil, Pakistan, and Indonesia. The Report on Disability has estimated that this group maintains a disposable income greater than $8 trillion.

If your company or government body wants to show the world that it truly sees the value in everyone, there are plenty of steps leaders can take right away to improve disability inclusion in your hiring processes, in the accessibility of your workplace, and in the products and services you offer.

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