Practical steps leaders can take to drive the Disability Inclusion agenda

Thu 14 February 2019

Businesses and business leaders internationally are making themselves accountable for inclusion of people with disability in the workforce. As momentum builds across the globe, we’re seeing signs of a ‘Disability Inclusion Revolution’. And while it’s easy to get excited by the grandiosity of this movement, the reality is that if more leaders are going to get on board, they need to know the practical steps they can take to drive this agenda.

To that end, here’s a list of some of the tactics discussed at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2019 in Davos, Switzerland.

Six men and women seated on stage in front of an audience having a panel discussion. Background wall is covered with the World Economic Forum logo.

Image: The Business Case for Disability Inclusion panel at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2019. Left to right: Paul Polman, Chief Executive Officer, Unilever, United Kingdom, Duncan Tait, President and Chief Executive Officer, Europe, Middle East, India and Africa, Fujitsu, United Kingdom, Caroline Casey, Founder, Binc, Ireland; Young Global Leader, Cultural Leader, Carolyn Tastad, Group President, North America, Procter & Gamble, USA, Peter T. Grauer, Chairman, Bloomberg, USA and Julie Sweet, Chief Executive Officer, North America, Accenture, USA. Image source: World Economic Forum / Sikarin Fon Thanachaiary.

Understand the business case.

There are many and varied reasons why companies are joining the Disability Inclusion Revolution; brand differentiation, next generation talent acquisition and a global market worth $8 trillion were just a few highlighted by Binc Founder Caroline Casey.

Unilever CEO Paul Polman also highlighted the fight for talent when he said, ‘Millennials want to work for companies that have a purpose. Why would you want to work for a company that says, “I don’t care about a certain group of people in the population”?’

No matter what the motivations, a deep understanding of the business case will help put inclusion of people with disability on your leadership agenda and keep it there.

Integrate the agenda across your whole business.

Rather than get caught up in ‘tick-box diversity’, Fujitsu’s Duncan Tait advised companies to build being responsible into their business model. ‘Figure out how inclusion of people with disability can make your company money, build it into the business, and then it will be sustainable forever,’ he said.

Accenture CEO Julie Sweet also encouraged businesses to make a holistic transformation. ‘It’s not about HR [Human Resources]. You train HR to support the business leaders in their commitment. This is about business leaders and then the company coming behind those leaders to enable the goal,’ she said.

Become comfortable and confident with the language of disability.

To talk about and prioritise inclusion of people with disability in business, leaders must be comfortable and confident with the language of disability. This could involve disability confidence training, experiential programs that connect your workplace to talented people with disability or joining a network of leaders working towards similar goals.

Understand the barriers to inclusion of people with disability.

Do you know what gets in the way of inclusion at your organisation? It could be unintended barriers in your recruitment process, a website that isn’t accessible, or an inadequate workplace adjustments procedure.

When Fujitsu discovered gaps in its workplace adjustments procedure, they introduced a Disability Passport. A digital mechanism to capture and communicate adjustments, the Passport ensures managers are always aware of what their people need to be most productive.

Create an action plan.

Bloomberg Chairman Peter T. Grauer said it’s important to know what your organisation is already doing, before developing a plan of action.

The best way for Australian organisations to find out about their areas of strength and opportunity is through the Australian Network on Disability’s Access and Inclusion Index. A national assessment and benchmarking tool that measures access and inclusion across ten key business areas, the results can be used as a roadmap for ongoing improvement.

An Accenture study called Getting to Equal: The Disability Inclusion Advantage revealed that companies that excelled in the American equivalent of the Access and Inclusion Index, known as the Disability Equality Index, were twice as likely to outperform their peers in terms of total shareholder returns.

Create a culture of inclusion.

Think about authentic and creative ways to show your employees, customers and stakeholders that you’re taking this agenda seriously. Help bring it to life, spark conversations and show yours is a company that cares through stories or creative campaigns, such as Fujitsu’s ‘Be Completely You’ campaign.

Set up an employee network or resource group.

Unilever CEO Paul Polman encouraged organisations to ‘Find and Champion people who have an interest in this. Disability is close to many people; you might be surprised to find how many people want to be involved’.

An effective employee network or Employee Resource Group can be a powerful vehicle to drive change in your organisation. Since Fujitsu set up its SEED network (Supporting and Engaging Employees with a Disability), the number of people who identify with disability has grown from 3% to 13%.


Accenture CEO Julie Sweet said, ‘Companies shouldn’t have to feel like they have to start from scratch. It’s not as much about competition, but about limited resources. Companies should share, so it’s easier to move to the next horizon’.

The ILO Global Business and Disability Network provides a list of country profiles for organisations seeking to connect with a national Business Disability Network.

Adopt the principles of Universal Design.

Barclays CEO Ashok Vaswani said customer-focused businesses must design products and services for a ‘continuum of disability’. In other words, at the start of every project, consider people’s changing needs – from those whose eyesight is starting to deteriorate because of ageing, to those living with permanent and severe disability – to ensure the best possible outcome.

Focus on hiring people with disability.

The best way to understand and change attitudes about disability is to welcome people with disability into your workforce. This could involve partnerships that facilitate targeted employment, such as that between Westpac and Specialisterne, or internship and mentoring programs that offer a pipeline of talent to match your hiring needs.

Influence your supply chains.

Businesses have the power to choose and influence their supply chains. For example, a procurement policy that defines minimum levels of accessibility compliance for software purchases ensures suppliers will support their accessibility agenda.

Fujitsu, for example, has stipulated that the people who provide them with talent need to prove they ‘fish in diverse pools’ and has ensured 20 per cent of its graduate intake includes people with disability.

Join The Valuable 500.

Launched by Binc, #valuable is a campaign working to ensure businesses globally recognise the value of the one billion people living with disability. The Valuable 500 seeks 500 global businesses to take accountability for inclusion of people with disability in business by putting it on their board agendas in 2019.

World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2019

The key ideas for this article were captured from the World Economic Forum (WEF) Annual Meeting that took place from 22 to 25 January in Davos, Switzerland. You can watch videos of the full discussions on the WEF website:

About the Australian Network on Disability

The Australian Network on Disability (AND) is a member-based national powerhouse of private, public and for-purpose organisations actively committed to inclusion of people with disability in business. Our services, programs and tools make it easier for you to build confidence and capability to welcome people with disability as employees, customers and stakeholders.

As part of our network, we’ll support you to build understanding and expertise, connect with others and check your progress on access and inclusion.

Save the date for our 12th Annual National Conference, which will be held at the world-class International Convention Centre (ICC) Sydney on Tuesday 12 May 2020. 

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