Despite progress toward inclusion, report finds few employees openly identify as disabled

The Disability Equality Index examined progress in disability inclusion at work.
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5 min read

Even as employers appear to make progress on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) employment numbers, the World Economic Forum reports that just 4% of global businesses prioritize disability inclusivity, despite 90% expressing a commitment to diversity, according to The Valuable 500.

Disability:IN, an organization that works to bring “disability inclusion and equality” to the forefront of diversity initiatives, released their eighth annual Disability Equality Index (DEI) Report on July 19. The 2022 report reviewed the disability inclusion progress of 415 companies—including ADP, Comcast NBCUniversal, and Boston Scientific, who have perfect scores—representing more than 14.9 million employees in the US and 8.8 million globally.

Companies that elect to participate in the DEI report are graded on an 100-point scale that assesses their workplace accessibility, inclusive employment practices, and disability inclusion at all levels, including in leadership. Despite the progress made toward disability inclusion, the results suggest businesses may still be struggling to encourage employees to openly identify as disabled, which is key to belonging.

Keys to inclusion. Some 79% of employers include disability in their diversity statements, according to the DEI Report. Of participating companies:

  • 79% have employee retention and advancement programs that focus on or include employees with disabilities.
  • 62% require that their digital products be accessible to job candidates and employees.
  • 61% make all job interview candidates aware of the option to request accommodations when interviewing.

Of the employers that participated in the DEI study, 96% offer flexible work arrangements, which Jill Houghton, president and CEO of Disability:IN, told HR Brew is, “something that we, as people with disabilities, have been asking for for decades.” (While the majority of DEI participants have adopted flexible work arrangements, some other employers are trying, somewhat unsuccessfully, to move back to a rigid in-office schedule.)

Despite a growing commitment to disability hiring and accommodation from DEI companies, the effect of these efforts on employees is still unclear, in part because so few workers openly identify as having a disability. While one in four Americans has a disability, just 4% of those currently employed by DEI participants identified as having a disability.

When asked why employees may decline to disclose disability, Cecilia Persson-Ramos, DEI employee resource group leader at Intuit, told HR Brew that it could be related to a fear of anonymous information not being anonymous or of being treated differently. “There are times when you’re wondering, are people treating you differently because of what you shared?”

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There are steps employers can take to help their employees feel more comfortable. “The companies that were doing better and doing more have disability employee resource groups [ERGs] and have a company leader that openly identifies as having a disability or being an ally,” Persson-Ramos said. While 88% of DEI-participating companies have an officially recognized disability-focused ERG or affinity group, only 30% have a senior executive (within two layers reporting to the CEO) who openly has a disability.

The work ahead. While Houghton is inspired by the growing number of employers that pledge to focus on doing better for disabled people, she says there’s still a long way to go in achieving disability belonging.

“There are still many Fortune 500 companies who for one reason or another, do not participate [in the DEI], and really have a tough time understanding what they’re doing from a disability inclusion perspective,” Ted Kennedy Jr., co-chair of the Disability Equality Index and board member of American Association of People with Disabilities, said. He believes some companies haven’t focused on disability inclusion not because they “don’t care” but because “it’s new to them,” and organizations like Disability:IN are instrumental in bridging the knowledge gap and “providing a solution.”

Despite potentially promising inclusion and accessibility numbers, people with a disability are still twice as likely to be unemployed as people without one. Disability-rights activist Rebecca Cokley told HR Brew via email that while the DEI data is important, it doesn’t go far enough.

“Where is the data on retention and promotion? And secondly, how many of the disabled employees are engaged in internal professional development programs? Economic justice is not achieved by a reboot of the ‘hire the handicapped’ campaigns of the pre-ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act] days. We need actual tangible inclusion.”—KP

Do you work in HR or have information about your HR department we should know? Email [email protected] or DM @Kris10Parisi on Twitter. For completely confidential conversations, ask Kristen for her number on Signal.

Quick-to-read HR news & insights

From recruiting and retention to company culture and the latest in HR tech, HR Brew delivers up-to-date industry news and tips to help HR pros stay nimble in today’s fast-changing business environment.