People with disabilities comprise more of the workforce than many realize. Today, an average of 5.5% of U.S. employees self-identify as having a disability compared to 3.7% just a year ago. This data helps companies build a culture of inclusion where people of all identities can belong. In addition, there is a business incentive. The recent Accenture report “Getting to Equal: The Disability Inclusion Advantage” found that companies that offered inclusive environments for workers with disabilities had, on average, 28% greater revenue and 30% higher profit margins than companies that did not.
The Americans with Disabilities Act advanced disability inclusion in the workforce, but corporate America must and should do more. Considering the unprecedented time of Covid-19 and its effect on the economy, early data reveals one in five workers with disabilities have lost their employment, compared with one in seven for their peers without disabilities. In all, nearly one million jobs have been lost in the disabled community.
As President and CEO of Disability:IN, formerly the US Business Leadership Network, Jill Houghton oversees the leading nonprofit empowering businesses to achieve disability inclusion and equality worldwide. Jill leverages her more than 25 years of leadership experience at the federal, state, and local levels to advocate for people with disabilities. She also happens to have a learning disability herself.
I recently sat down with Jill to discuss the impact of Covid-19 on employees and business owners with disabilities, ways that lawmakers can support them, and resources available at this time. I appreciate Jill taking the time to speak with me; below is a summary of our conversation.
Rhett Buttle: How are people with disabilities—whether employees or owners of small businesses—being impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic?
Jill Houghton: People with existing disabilities face a myriad of challenges during this difficult time, as well as those who are facing new challenges with mental health, accessibility, and mobility.
The pandemic has disrupted our society, economy and the “working world.” Prior to the pandemic, people with disabilities faced bias, inaccessibility, and other challenges, and now the pandemic only further exacerbates these concerns. People with disabilities are among the most vulnerable, whether they are elderly, veterans, have mobility challenges, or have underlying health conditions.
However, it does not necessarily take a pandemic to disrupt the daily life of a person with a disability. People with disabilities constantly face disruption and obstacles as they navigate a world that is not always accessible and designed to meet their needs. Nonetheless, people with disabilities develop the creative skills and persistent strategies – skills that translate well to becoming successful and valued business partners and employees.
Buttle: What’s your policy wishlist when it comes to supporting those in the disability community who want to start or grow their small businesses? Is different support needed during this time?
Houghton: Although the Covid-19 pandemic has presented extreme challenges, it has also presented new opportunities to re-examine, revamp, and re-start in a more inclusive, sustainable way.
At the top of our wish list, is for corporations and organizations to align their support to the disability community with their overall organizational goals and objectives. For example, if your customers include people with disabilities, then optimizing a supplier diversity program to include certified disability-owned businesses would further lend support and strengthen business strategies. With an integrated approach, inclusion efforts are more likely to be sustainable and authentic.
Next, understand that disability has many dimensions. Disability can be a permanent or temporary part of anyone’s life. Disability comes in many shapes and forms and knows no race, gender, sexual orientation, or ethnicity. The CDC estimates that one in four Americans have a disability. As you look to advance inclusion of disability-owned businesses, engage your existing stakeholders who are likely to have a disability. People with disabilities are experts in their own inclusion and actively involving them in those business decisions will ensure positive outcomes.
Third, officially recognize certified disability-owned businesses in your supplier diversity program. A disability-owned business enterprise (DOBE®) is a for-profit business that is at least 51% owned, managed, and controlled by a person with a disability. The Billion Dollar Roundtable and hundreds of corporations already recognize the three DOBE certifications (listed below).
It is important for the disability community to be recognized and included alongside other minority communities at organizations like the Small Business Administration (SBA) and major corporations. Often, disability-owned businesses have been overlooked or excluded from public and private sector procurement opportunities.
Disability:IN certifies three different disability-owned business enterprises:
- Disability-Owned Business Enterprise (DOBE®);
- Veteran Disability-Owned Business Enterprise (V-DOBE™); and
- Service-Disabled Veteran Disability-Owned Business Enterprise (SDV-DOBE™).
By recognizing these certifications in your supplier diversity program, you are expanding your reach to diverse talent and businesses.
Buttle: How can other leaders (e.g., philanthropic, corporate) or even consumers help level the playing field for small business owners with disabilities?
Houghton: Anyone can help level the playing field for disability-owned businesses by first recognizing that disability is part of the human condition and is a natural part of anyone’s identity. The stigma attached to disability is incorrect and further discriminates against potential talent and opportunity for disability-owned businesses.
By including disability alongside other diversity efforts (such as woman-owned businesses and minority-owned), then it eases a domino effect of further action.
Following through with policies, practices, and processes can level the procurement playing field for all suppliers up and down the supply chain. Recognizing the three different certifications, which includes veterans, can support a more level playing field for all small businesses.
Buttle: What resources can help business owners during this time?
Houghton: Besides financial support and relief provided on the federal, state, and local levels, both large corporations and small businesses are encouraged to join the business network at Disability:IN.
Through Disability:IN, corporations can connect with DOBEs through a supplier hub, meet and exceed commitment goals, lead by example and gain a competitive edge, and ultimately make a social and economic impact by utilizing DOBEs.
Business owners can gain a nationally recognized certification, exclusive information and resources, networking and business matchmaking, policy and advocacy support, and access to private sector corporations.
We have also launched a global campaign called “Are You IN?” calling on everyone to play their role in building an inclusive global economy. We invite you to join IN, to receive resources on disability inclusion, including certification.
For more information and to join the Disability:IN network, visit www.DisabilityIN.org/SupplierDiversity.
Don’t miss my earlier conversations with Ron Busby, CEO of the U.S. Black Chambers, Inc., Ramiro Cavazos, President And CEO of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber Of Commerce, Chiling Tong, President and CEO of the Asian/Pacific Islander American Chamber Of Commerce And Entrepreneurship, and Jen Earle, National CEO Of the National Association Of Women Business Owners.