Companies need to start thinking globally about disability

Picture of UN headquarters in New York

By Brendan Roach, Business Disability Forum

Since its inception in 1992, the UN’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD), which is held annually on 3 December, has become *the* date for organisations around the world to celebrate their achievements, raise awareness and launch new disability-related initiatives.

Business Disability Forums Members and Partners undertake a range of imaginative celebratory activities on IDPD. This year, we are really excited about PurpleSpace’s call for UK and global organisations to visibly celebrate the economic and leadership contribution of disabled employees by turning the world purple on 3 December as part of its Purple Light Up[1]’ project.

The theme for this year’s IDPD is ‘Transformation towards a sustainable and resilient society for all’[2] and focuses on identifying the ‘enabling conditions for the changes envisaged in the 2030 development agenda for Sustainable Development’[3].

This is the second in a short series of blogs in the run up to the 2017 event, looking at the role that organisations have to play in transforming society for disabled people worldwide.

In this entry, I will offer up some suggestions about the kind of action that organisations can undertake to improve their disability performance. These recommendations are based on our experience of supporting UK organisations for over 25 years and from working with an increasingly international group of clients.

How does an organisation become disability-smart?

Improving an organisation’s disability performance takes time and requires a sustained and coordinated effort. This is especially true of large organisations which are complex and can be slow to change.

In practice this means:

  1. Understanding how disability affects your whole organisation

 Disability impacts on a range of business functions from recruitment to HR, product/service development, premises and ICT. Consequently, the skills and knowledge required by different colleagues will also vary. For example, the know-how required by a recruiting manager in order to source qualified disabled candidates is different to the technical skills required by a web designer to ensure that people with a visual impairment can use a website.

To help UK businesses measure and improve their performance in these and other key areas, we developed the Disability Standard[4] management tool. Since its inception in 2005, the whole organisation approach of the Disability Standard has proved to be a model that is both effective and universal as it has been adapted for use in countries as varied as Australia and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

There is an additional component (and an amazing opportunity) for organisations with a global presence here. As organisations which, by definition operate across multiple societies, they have the potential to improve outcomes for a huge number of people with disabilities including those in low income countries who are often the most disadvantaged.

Some companies are already working to ensure that their global presence benefits people with disabilities worldwide. For example, BDF Members L’Oréal, Sodexo and Accenture have teamed up with the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) Global Business and Disability Network (GBDN)[5]. A key element of the GBDN’s strategy is to use the global reach of the ILO and the GBDN’s corporate members to support the establishment of national business and disability networks (like Business Disability Forum), especially in developing countries.

In addition to improving vocational training and employment opportunities, there is also an opportunity for global business to explore how its products or services might mitigate the barriers encountered by people with disabilities. This is especially relevant for companies in the technology space as the UN highlights the role of accessible technology as being crucial in areas such as urban development, disaster risk reduction and humanitarian action[6].

A brilliant recent example of an organisation deploying its own specialist expertise in order to address the barriers experience by people with a disability is Accenture, a Business Disability Forum Partner. Accenture worked with the National Association for the Blind in India to develop a mobile app which uses features such as image recognition, natural language processing and natural language generation capabilities to describe the environment around a user with a visual impairment[7].

There is also an opportunity for global companies to ensure that their wider CSR or sustainability-related programmes include a focus on addressing the specific challenges experienced by people with disabilities in areas such as education, health and infrastructure.

  1. Understanding the barriers that people with disabilities experience and being proactive in removing them.

Disability-smart organisations accept as a fact of life that, wherever they operate, they will have employees, customers and other stakeholders with disabilities and are proactive in anticipating their needs. For example, by ensuring that:

  • Line managers are trained to identify when a colleague may need a workplace adjustment and to understand their role in implementing it.
  • People with a visual impairment or learning difficulty can access the company website, recruitment portal or intranet by working to a minimum level Double-A of the W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0)
  • All premises are built according to the principles of Universal Design.

Addressing disability-related barriers requires a deep understanding of the lived experience of the people with disabilities who are affected by any of an  organisation’s activities. This insight can only be gained by working directly with people with disabilities using strategies such as those set out in Business Disability International’s Learning Directly From Disabled People guide[8].

  1. Making adjustments or accommodations for individuals

Adjustments in employment such as providing equipment or changing how or where work is carried out by an employee with a disability is a legal requirement in countries ranging from the UK, the US, South Africa and Japan. In addition, it is a key requirement of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) which has now been ratified by 174 countries[9].

In the UK, we have seen organisations like Business Disability Forum Partner Lloyds Banking Group set the standard in developing a consistent approach to making adjustments for all disabled employees[10]. Encouragingly, global organisations are also starting to develop adjustments processes which support colleagues with disabilities wherever they are in the world. For example, Shell (also a Business Disability Forum Partner) piloted a single workplace accessibility process in the Netherlands and Canada before starting to roll it out globally this year[11].

Mark IDPD 2017 by taking action

The UN’s IDPD webpage includes a list of recommendations of how to commemorate IDPD 2017[12] which includes celebrating and taking action.

Of course it is important to celebrate and to raise awareness but it is only through the kind of action outlined above that organisations can really contribute to the positive change for people with disabilities envisaged by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the CRPD.

So it does not matter if your organisation makes policy or mobile phones, provides education or front of house services for city law firms. Take action, because it is the cumulative effect of a wide range of organisations routinely anticipating and accommodating the needs of people with disabilities, which will ultimately create the enabling conditions for a truly inclusive society.

[1] https://www.purplespace.org/our-projects/purple-light-up

[2] https://www.un.org/development/desa/disabilities/international-day-of-persons-with-disabilities-3-december/idpd2017.html#Background

[3] http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/development-agenda/

[4] http://businessdisabilityforum.org.uk/disability-standard/

[5] http://www.businessanddisability.org/index.php/en/

[6] http://www.un.org/disabilities/documents/2017/idpd/theme_background_note.docx

[7]  http://globalaccessibilitynews.com/2017/07/31/accenture-develops-ai-powered-solultion-to-help-people-with-vision-disabilities/

[8] http://www.businessdisabilityinternational.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/bdi-publication-Learning-Directly-From-Disabled-People.pdf

[9] https://www.un.org/development/desa/disabilities/convention-on-the-rights-of-persons-with-disabilities.html

[10]http://www.businessdisabilityforum.org.uk/media_manager/public/261/BDF%20Lloyds%20BG%20Workplace%20adjustments%20case%20study.pdf

[11] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GNW8T4-Vbyo

[12] https://www.un.org/development/desa/disabilities/international-day-of-persons-with-disabilities-3-december/idpd2017.html

One thought on “Companies need to start thinking globally about disability

  1. Pingback: How national business and disability networks can help create an inclusive global society for persons with disabilities | Disability-smart: the blog of Business Disability Forum

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