Wednesday 29 May 2019 2:48 pm

Hiring disabled people is a trillion-dollar business opportunity

Caroline Casey is a disability activist and founder of The Valuable 500.

Government figures show that over the past five years, some 930,000 disabled people have found employment – an increase of 7.4 per cent, compared with 3.8 per cent for non-disabled people.

That serves a heady shot of optimism for people like me who live and work with a disability, especially when you consider that globally, disabled people are 50 per cent more likely to experience poverty.

As Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd rightly said: if you’re not recruiting disabled talent, your competitors probably are. And about time too.

With some 15 per cent of the global population living with a form of disability, businesses cannot ignore disabled people any longer. If employers discount this group, you disregard a potential market the size of the US, Brazil, Indonesia, and Pakistan combined.

Put another way, the world’s disabled people, combined with their friends, families and communities, hold a disposable annual income of $8 trillion a year.

The disability market is clearly a huge opportunity for businesses, but the majority of organisations still don’t see it. While 90 per cent of companies claim to prioritise diversity, only four per cent prioritise disability.

EY research found disability to be woefully absent from the leadership agendas of the majority of global businesses. In fact, over half of the world’s C-suite execs rarely or never discuss disability on their agendas.

If these statistics – and the behaviour behind it – endures, the era of inclusion will remain a figment of our imagination, and the multi-trillion dollar business opportunity will be missed.

To empower businesses to end this crisis, we need accountable leadership. Last year, we saw bold statements from large businesses on disability inclusion, but 2019 holds the promise of real change.

So, how can a company be more inclusive of disabled people?

Start at the top. If disability inclusion is not on the board agenda, it’s merely paying lip service to the matter, and achieving little progress.

Companies should also make their intentions known and their actions accountable (you can do this by signing up to The Valuable 500). 

What we do at work massively impacts how we act outside of it. And we know that if business takes the value of disabled people more seriously, society will follow. 

Virgin Media, Omnicom Group, Bloomberg, and Sainsbury’s are all examples of global businesses which have stepped up to the plate when it comes to driving social change, and now we need more to follow in suit.

Unilever’s Paul Polman told me about the need for business to bring humanity into its actions, to look beyond the rat race and remember what’s important for society. When we take the easier route, he said, we become short-termist – not just in our outlook, but in our results.

Talking about disability can be awkward, and it’s harder than simply living with the status quo.

But that’s a status quo that will never get hold of the trillion-dollar market opportunity, nor tap into a group of people who inherently bring resilience, tenacity, and unique perspectives to their jobs.

It’s a state of affairs that wilfully leaves people out. Business leaders should commit to bringing disabled people in.