Top 8 Findings from the Newly Released Disability Equality Index 

By: Sarah Roberts

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Are businesses becoming more inclusive of people with disabilities? This year’s Disability Equality Index showcases encouraging signs. The American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) and Disability:IN released a joint report, investigating the practices of 485 companies across 30 industries. These companies employ 16.9 million people in the US and another 13.2 million abroad. 

These eight key takeaways from the Index report offer helpful insights for making your company more inclusive.  

1. Participation in the Index jumped by 6x, showcasing more companies are committed 

Participation in the Index in 2023 was six times higher than it was for the first Index, eight years ago. Of the 485 companies that took part in the Index’s assessments, 405 were named “Best Places to Work for Disability Inclusion.” Only companies that scored 80 or higher earned this distinction.  

It’s worth noting that the Index looks at companies that are willing to participate in a disability inclusion assessment, and it’s likely those companies are the ones already prioritizing accessibility. However, the fact that so many more businesses are willing to take part indicates a growing commitment to disability inclusion among corporate leadership. 

2. When senior leadership commits to disability inclusion, success is more likely 

87% of companies whose CEO signed the CEO Letter on Disability Inclusion received scores 80 higher on the Index. Disability inclusion simply doesn’t work unless there’s buy in from those at the top. Employees across the organization are more likely to prioritize inclusion efforts when they know its important to leadership as well.  

However, while more CEOs and corporate leaders are prioritizing inclusion, it’s not yet translating in representation. According to the Index, only 7% of companies have a director that identifies as having a disability.  

Woman and man looking at a computer screen

3. More employees are now disclosing their disabilities 

93% of the participants in the Index encourage self-identification. That encouragement is leading to a rise in self-identification, which can help destigmatize disability in the workplace.  

Identification and disclosure are also critical for representation. When employees with disabilities earn leadership positions, their success can help work against biases and encourage others to climb the corporate ladder as well. However, that can only happen when they feel comfortable disclosing their disability. 

Despite progress, respondents stated that encouraging people to disclose their disabilities is challenging. It’s important to note that it’s not the employee’s responsibility to disclose their disability. Instead, it’s the company’s responsibility to create an inclusive atmosphere where people are comfortable coming forward.   

4. Employee resource groups are working at boosting inclusion efforts 

One of the most common practices among the highest scoring companies was the existence of employee resource groups (ERG) for people with disabilities. Creating an ERG is a great way to encourage employees to speak out about the tools or processes that would help them perform their jobs better.  

An ERG is an organization of employees from underrepresented demographics who gain the benefits of a collective voice. With an ERG, employees are more likely to get the attention they need and to feel more confident making requests. Companies can support these efforts through funding, offering a space for gathering and appointing an executive level sponsor who gives the group more authority.  

5. Disability representation in ads remains low 

Companies need to be considering how inclusive their marketing campaigns and products are as well. More business leaders report initiatives to make their social media presence and digital products more accessible. However, disability representation in advertising remains low, with just 1% of ads including a person with a disability. Given that 25% of the population have a disability, representation in marketing should be much higher. Inclusive marketing is, therefore, one area where companies have much room for improvement.  

6. Disability inclusion translates to 28% higher revenue 

The Index found that companies that commit to disability inclusion are outperforming their peers financially. Specifically, companies that are disability inclusive earn an average of 28% higher revenue and see a 30% increase in economic profit margins versus their non-inclusive counterparts. 

According to Accenture’s “Getting To Equal” report, when a company builds a better reputation by including individuals with disabilities in its marketing efforts, it will find itself earning a more favorable impression from 84% of respondents. In fact, 80% of those surveyed said that such campaigns made them want to do business with the company. 

7. Remote work created resiliency among employees with disabilities 

In the years following the pandemic, the rate of employed people with disabilities recovered faster than the overall average. The Index states that flexible work arrangements, including the option to work from home, contributed to this trend.  

However, despite the quicker recovery, the total percentage of people with disabilities who are employed remains low compared to the national average. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, just 21.3% of people with disabilities were employed in 2022 while the overall US employment rate is 65.4%. 

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8. Growing “diversity fatigue” still isn’t slowing disability inclusion initiatives 

The report found that “diversity fatigue” is a growing challenge for many organizations. For instance, the average tenure of leaders in DEIA (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility) positions at S&P 500 companies dropped from 3.1 years to 1.8 between 2018 and 2021. Shrinking budgets, unenthusiastic C-suites and resistant employees are among the factors causing burnout for professionals in these positions.  

Also, fears of recession and inflation are contributing to a backlash to social justice movements and environmentalism. This trend is hindering some environmental, social and governance (ESG) initiatives that previously helped bolster inclusion efforts.  

However, according to the Index, diversity fatigue and anti-ESG sentiments don’t seem to be impacting disability inclusion, which is still experiencing a growth in support.  

At Verbit, we’re paying close attention to the Index and the progress of disability inclusion efforts throughout the world. Verbit is also a signatory of Disability:In’s Procure Access Statement. Signing the Statement is a pledge to recognize “the importance of purchasing and selling technology that is accessible to people with disabilities.” For a wealth of expert guidance and more up-to-date insights on accessibility and inclusion, visit Advancing Accessibility, our informational online hub.