Over 1 billion people worldwide are living with a disability. In the U.S. alone, more than 15 million working-age people have one, and when older adults are taken into account, that number jumps to 61 million, or one in four Americans. Mobility is the most common type, affecting one in seven adults. Other common disabilities include difficulty hearing or seeing, or problems with cognition— concentrating, remembering or making decisions.
The 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the subsequent ADA Amendments Act (2008) made great strides in protecting people with disabilities in the U.S. by prohibiting discrimination in many aspects of public life. The ADA helped usher in improvements like wider aisles in stores and school ramps to accommodate wheelchairs, plus accessible public transportation.
Most of the world still lacks similar protections. Only 24 percent of countries have constitutions that guarantee equal rights or specifically prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability. However, the under-employment of disabled people continues to be a major problem, both globally and here in the U.S.. People living with disabilities are twice as likely to be unemployed as people without disabilities. Employment for disabled Americans has fallen since 1990, due in part to an aging population, with older workers likely to have more disabilities.
Even for those who are employed, having a disability can significantly affect one’s earning power. Workers with a disability earned a median of $21,572 in 2015 versus $31,872 for those without a disability. There’s also a disparity in the types of jobs held by those with a disability: the top job for non-disabled people is teaching, while for the disabled, it’s janitorial duties. Globally, only 18 percent of countries constitutionally protect the right to work for people with disabilities. So, what does it take to make a real difference? Oftentimes, it’s Individual companies changing their policies and practices.
Sometimes, inclusion lags because company management is concerned about the cost of accommodations. But almost 60% of accommodations are free to employers, while the rest are often much lower-cost than employers expect: around $500 per employee with a disability. Others worry about the stigma of visible disabilities. In practice, improving disability inclusion actually benefits companies both directly and indirectly, helping with employee retention, productivity, training costs, tax benefits, as well as morale and customer interactions. One study showed that companies hiring people with disabilities saw improvements in profitability, competitive advantage, inclusive work culture, and ability awareness. Companies embracing disability inclusion also gain access to a tremendous new talent pool. U.S. GDP could grow by $25 billion if just 1 percent more of people with disabilities joined the workforce. For people with disabilities, the benefits are numerous, including improved quality of life and income, greater independence, enhanced self-confidence, and a sense of community.
How can investing make a difference? Responsible investing works to guide companies to set new standards for how they interact with all kinds of stakeholders: shareholders, employees, customers and community members. By investing in companies prioritizing those with disabilities, investors encourage other companies to follow suit. Plus, investors can engage through shareholder resolutions or direct communication to help shape guidelines around disability inclusion.
Here’s how investors can use OpenInvest’s Disability Inclusion cause to help. OpenInvest relies on the Disability:IN’s annual Disability Equality Index (DEI) and Return on Disability Group’s indices to identify companies following best practices in engaging people with disabilities as candidates, employees, customers, and suppliers. Companies with a score of 80 or higher on the DEI are considered “DEI Best Places to Work for Disability Inclusion.” The 2019 index measured how companies are stacking up when it comes to disability inclusion in categories including culture & leadership, employment practices, community engagement and supplier diversity.
An inclusive culture starts with leadership’s commitment to hire people with disabilities. Inclusive companies make job postings accessible and inviting, ensure employees with disabilities are getting promoted, and embrace technological innovations to remove barriers. Launching this cause helped OpenInvest think about whether we offer accessible products and services, and we made changes to our website to improve its accessibility. We know there is more to do, and have started our journey to being a more inclusive company and employer, too.
Photograph courtesy of Disability:In.