How national business and disability networks can help create an inclusive global society for persons with disabilities

By Brendan Roach

This is the third and final entry in a short series of blogs in the run up to the UN’s annual International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD) on 3 Dec, looking at the role that organisations have to play in transforming society for people with disabilities worldwide.

The theme for this year’s IDPD is ‘Transformation towards a sustainable and resilient society for all’[1] and focuses on identifying the ‘enabling conditions for the changes envisaged in the 2030 development agenda for Sustainable Development’[2].

The 2030 agenda contains 17 sustainable goals, many of which include a specific reference to disability including Goal no. 8[3] which focuses on ensuring that everyone (including disabled people) have access to decent employment opportunities.

In my previous entry[4] I discussed the practical steps that individual companies can take to improve how they recruit and retain employees and serve customers with disabilities. In this entry, I am exploring the positive impact of peer to peer networking between businesses on the subject of disability.

The first national business and disability network

Business Disability Forum was launched by the Prince of Wales in 1991 (then as the ‘Employers’ Forum on Disability’) as the world’s first employers’ organisation working to the mutual benefit of business people and people with disabilities.

A key driver for the establishment of the Forum was that initiatives aimed at supporting people with disabilities into employment often failed to take into account the needs of employers. Since then, we have grown and now support nearly 300 public and private sector organisations to become disability-smart through the provision of advice and guidance, business to business networking and knowledge-sharing.

Understanding the legal and cultural context in other countries

Around one third of Business Disability Forum’s members operate in multiple countries and they are increasingly looking for support to help them get it right for their employees and customers wherever they are in the world.

Common queries to our Advice Service[5] include:

  • ‘What are our legal obligations in Poland, Mexico…(insert country of your choice)?’
  • Can we gather disability-related data in Germany?
  • ‘Which countries operate a system of mandatory employment for people with disabilities (i.e. a quota)?’
  • How do we find disabled candidates in the Philippines?

We’re starting to see the emergence of a couple of sources of support with these questions. The first is the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) Global business and Disability Network (GBDN) which has a small but soon to be expanding collection of country profiles on its website[6]. The profiles include statistics, legal requirements and sources of support in countries such as China and Peru.

Second is the emergence of a growing number of National Business and Disability Networks (NBDNs). Many of these networks are developing or newly established although some such as the Australian Network on Disability[7], Employers’ Federation of Ceylon’s Employers’ Network on Disability[8] and Mexico’s Movimiento Congruencia[9] have been in existence for over a decade.

What are the characteristics of a National Business and Disability Networks?

Business Disability Forum’s CEO Diane Lightfoot and I recently attended a fascinating meeting hosted by the ILO’s GBDN in Geneva of around 15 NBDNs from countries ranging from Canada to Poland and Bangladesh.

Whilst the NBDNs are all different shapes and sizes, the ILO defines our common characteristic as being a forum ‘where companies and other organizations come together to work towards further employment and social inclusion of persons with disabilities.’

Despite some very differing contexts, it was interesting to hear how many of the challenges described by the various networks were shared. For example, many network leaders spoke of:

    • Overcoming stereotypes, poor accessibility and a general low level of awareness on disability issues on part of employers.
  • The challenges of finding qualified candidates with disabilities.


  • Promoting the role of adjustments or accommodations in removing the barriers experienced by people with disabilities.

Linking up with a Business and Disability Network in your country or wherever you operate

The ILO’s Global Business and Disability Network reckons there are currently over 20 national and business and disability networks across the world, in developed and developing countries (many of which, the ILO has directly supported the creation or strengthening of).

The GBDN has compiled a map of all of the networks currently on its radar. This list includes networks on every continent and in countries ranging from the US, Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia, and Indonesia:

Check it out and if you’re a business in any of these countries then why not make contact with your local NBDN? If you work for a global organsaition then how about using your global reach to engage with existing networks and to support the development of new ones?

Lastly, if like us you’re keen to learn more, look out for an upcoming series of podcasts that Business Disability Forum will be producing in association with the GBDN featuring interviews with our counterparts in other NBDNs.










1 thought on “How national business and disability networks can help create an inclusive global society for persons with disabilities

  1. Pingback: Disabled People Going Places in Scotland and beyond – why venturing out of London was such a good idea | Disability-smart: the blog of Business Disability Forum

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