International Day of Persons with Disabilities, taking place on 3 December, provides organisations with an opportunity to bring conversations about disability inclusion into board agendas, enabling businesses to consider how they can be fully inclusive while doing the right thing in this area. 

According to the United Nations, there are one billion persons with disabilities; yet disability inclusion is a pervasive issue. Eliminating unfair discrimination is a moral obligation first and foremost, but, if that is insufficient reason, there is statistical data available indicating the correlation between disability inclusion and better business. 

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, companies that were identified as leaders of disability inclusion had, on average, 28% higher revenue, double the net income and 30% higher economic profit margins than their counterparts, over a four-year period. Organisations employing persons with disabilities and taking steps to be inclusive in regard to disability can reap the multitude of benefits that an ability-diverse workforce brings with it, such as: 

  • A far larger talent pool to draw from, which can help to solve issues related to the skills shortage 
  • A more diverse range of skills, talents and qualifications 
  • Improved employee morale through workplace equality and fair practice 

These are the kinds of questions boards should be asking: 

Ethical questions: 

  • How are our values reflected in the action we take towards disability inclusion? 
  • What does doing the right thing in regard to disability inclusion mean in our organisation? 
  • Should we be doing more to be inclusive of persons with disabilities? 

Employee questions: 

  • Do we know how many persons with disabilities are employed in our organisation, in which countries and at which occupational levels? 
  • Do we track and measure percentages of persons with disabilities in terms of new hires, promotions, training and employee turnover rates? 
  • Do we have an employee resource group, or employee network group, for persons with disabilities that can communicate issues or opportunities with the board? 
  • How could increased disability inclusion open up opportunities such as broadening talent pools and supporting the development of additional resources with specialist or scarce skills? 

Structural questions: 

  • Do we understand what our organisation would be like if it was the most inclusive it could possibly be of persons with disability?
  • Do we have an employee resource group, or employee network group, advising on potential areas of indirect discrimination? 
  • When adopting or amending organisational policies, is there a mechanism to check in and ensure that there is insight as to how it will impact disability inclusion? 
  • Do our employee demographics with regards to persons with disabilities, indicate that we have structural challenges with disability inclusion? 

Good corporate governance and disability inclusion have many shared outcomes. Two of the most significant being that they both result in strengthened, engaged communities, and they both empower and uplift individuals through being able to add value to the economy. Boards have the opportunity to make a difference and leverage the benefits that good corporate governance and disability inclusion can bring to individuals, organisations and communities. 

*Author’s note: The author acknowledges and respects that various disabled communities have different preferences when referring to disabilities. For the purposes of this article, the consistent term of “persons with disabilities” has been used in line with the wording used by the United Nations.