The hidden value of disability inclusion: 5 benefits that can help your company

Decision-makers don’t always think of disability inclusion as a business move. But it can strengthen companies in several ways, from bottom-line benefits to brand loyalty.

Here are five disability inclusion benefits that can bring value to your company. Some of them might surprise you.

1. Increased employee retention and productivity

Companies want their employees to stick around. And they want them to care about their work.

"The number one hidden benefit of disability inclusion is increased retention and decreased turnover,” says James Emmett, a disability inclusion expert and lead workplace strategist for Understood. “It’s a direct product of employee brand loyalty.”

A third of managers rate employees with disabilities as more dedicated and less likely to leave the job than their peers. And the benefits can extend to the wider staff.

Three years ago, Quest Diagnostics began actively recruiting candidates with autism spectrum disorder. It was part of DiverseAbilities, the company’s disability-focused employee business network.

Employees across the company have embraced the program. “Folks who have been here for years appreciate when we do anything to help us get a stable, reliable, productive workforce. It impacts them when we don’t have that,” says Linda Behmke, Quest’s corporate engagement and human-resources compliance manager. Thanks to the DiverseAbilities program, Quest found opportunities to improve their onboarding process in a way that benefits everyone.

According to Emmett, disability inclusion has a “rally effect” where “productivity is enhanced for everybody.”

“It’s not just people with disabilities coming in and kicking butt in the workplace," he says. "It’s people who don’t have disabilities rallying around the initiative and the people in this initiative.”

2. Access to an untapped talent pool

One in four adults in the United States has a disability. And the majority of Americans with disabilities are striving to work.

According to a 2018 report by Accenture, companies that embrace disability inclusion gain access to a talent pool of more than 10 million people. That represents the largest untapped group of job seekers in the country.

Companies looking to recruit people with disabilities will find partners willing to help. In 2004, Emmett worked with Walgreens to build their disability inclusion program. At the time, he says, there were only “one or two disability organizations to provide us enough candidates” for recruiting. “Now, companies build partnerships with many grassroots organizations that serve a variety of different populations across many types of disabilities.”

3. Boosting a company’s bottom line

Disability inclusion can improve the bottom line — through both revenue and financial incentives.

According to the 2018 Accenture report, companies that followed best practices for disability inclusion achieved an average of 28 percent higher revenue, double the net income, and 30 percent higher economic profit margins compared with those that didn’t.

One of the common myths about hiring people with disabilities is that it’s expensive to hire and train these workers. Starting or practicing disability inclusion can make a company eligible for financial incentives. “Tax credits, On-the-Job Training (OJT) grants, and other incentives can turn this even more cost-positive,” says Emmett.

4. Consumer brand loyalty

People with disabilities are a significant market segment. Disposable income for working-age people with disabilities is about $490 billion. And that’s not to mention their friends, relatives, and larger networks who may feel loyalty toward inclusive businesses.

Making consumers aware of a company’s disability inclusion initiative can have a major impact. “The more known it becomes, the more it provides goodwill. And it certainly helps your business,” says Behmke.

In 2018, Starbucks opened its first American Sign Language–centric location, known as the Signing Store. The store is near the campus of Gallaudet University in Washington, DC, which is geared to students who are deaf and hard of hearing. “All of their staff is proficient in sign language,” says Emmett. There’s an appeal to the area’s broader population as well. “The customer loyalty component is huge.”

Starbucks added two more Signing Stores in 2019, for a total of four around the world.

5. Strength from new perspectives

“Disability inclusion enhances diversity initiatives because it brings in individuals who have different perspectives and are often used to overcoming barriers,” says Emmett. “These different perspectives can help improve the way the company looks at solving problems.”

And disability inclusion training for all employees — from co-workers to management — leads to a level of awareness that they wouldn’t have otherwise. “You talk to companies and they say, ‘This disability inclusion initiative has helped us learn that people learn in different ways. To be a good company, we need to customize our training and support as much as possible,’” says Emmett.

The corporate benefits of disability inclusion are clear. When employees with disabilities are valued for their strengths, the whole company benefits.

“The goal is to get companies to be loud and proud about their recruiting efforts in the disability community,” adds Emmett. “It’s about making it part of everyday business.”

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