Tuesday 3 December 2019 4:44 am

It's International Day of Persons with Disabilities, and we need more inclusion in society

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

As I type, it is impossible not to be reminded that my ability to do so — as someone who is registered blind — is because of the typewriter’s role as a 200-year-old example of disability inclusion. 

Early iterations of what led to perhaps the most ubiquitously used invention in the world — the keyboard — were created to enable blind people to type.

Similarly, the remote control made television far more accessible to this same community. What makes these examples stand out is that these are not inventions for disabled people — they are used by billions around the world — but unlike so much of the world’s infrastructure, they were invented with their needs in mind. 

Unfortunately, this does not happen often enough. I was shocked by the number of viral tweets just a few weeks ago — after a new set of emojis were released, including one of a blind person — that joked along the lines: “I am sure blind people will appreciate this when they see it.”

Why should one in seven people in society be excluded from the conversations that people have every day? 

These are the challenges that disabled people face every day. Put crudely, today there are more fashion lines designed for dogs than for disabled people — how is that still a reality in 2019?

Today is the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, and while I commend what this day was created to achieve, I can’t help but feel that we shouldn’t need a “day” to celebrate underrepresented groups of society. 

It is not a niche group. Disability is a 1.3bn-strong part of society — equivalent to the population of India, or the market size of the US, Brazil, Pakistan and Indonesia combined, with a disposable income of $8 trillion per year. In the UK alone, the combined purchasing power of people with disabilities is £249bn.

And yet, this group of society is so often under-served, overlooked, and misunderstood by business. 

Trends such as the ageing of the population and medical advancements mean that this market will only continue to grow — we already know that 80 per cent of disabilities are acquired in later life and could happen to any of us.  

We know that when business leads, society follows — business has long been a driver of social change. Yet business continues to overlook this market segment, which presents a huge barrier to overcoming the inclusion crisis. 

There has been some progress. Over the last few decades, we have seen companies finally come to acknowledge vital issues in the workplace, such as the gender pay gap and climate change, and this acknowledgement has led to genuine change.

That’s why this year we launched The Valuable 500, a global movement putting disability on the business leadership agenda. We are calling on 500 global businesses to commit to putting disability inclusion on their board agendas. 

It certainly hasn’t been an easy challenge. At this stage, we have 200 businesses that have committed to take bold business leadership on disability inclusion, with the latest including Tesco, Salesforce, and Vodafone.  

Sadly, we’ve found that while 90 per cent of companies claim that they prioritise diversity, only four per cent actively consider disability in the workplace. How can anyone justify saying that they are advocating for diversity and inclusion, when 96 per cent of companies are choosing to ignore one in seven members of society?  

We have certainly made great strides towards an inclusive society, but there is still a long way to go. 

I hope that one day we will no longer need to celebrate 3 December on an annual basis for disabled people — this will only happen when we truly achieve an inclusion revolution.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.