International CEOs discuss the business of disability inclusion

Thu 8 February 2018

Face shots of Debra Ruh and Suzanne Colbert in a video conference talking to each other

In an interview by Debra Ruh, CEO and founder of Ruh Global Communications, our CEO Suzanne Colbert AM talks about how the Australian Network on Disability (AND) got started, how it’s helping organisations craft effective, sustainable strategies for disability inclusion, and why she’s feeling very positive about the future.

No stranger to the business of disability inclusion, Debra is an internationally-recognised disability advocate, author, influencer and entrepreneur. Speaking to Suzanne as part of her Human Potential at Work podcast, Debra said she was fascinated when she first heard about AND’s business model.

“You had been doing it [consultancy] a lot longer than we had been in the U.S., and, in my humble opinion, a lot more successfully. So, I was really fascinated with the model when I first heard about it.”

Describing AND’s origins, Suzanne’s vision was clear:

“What if we didn’t have to spend months and months looking for jobs for people with disability? What if our companies could open their doors and see the skills, talents and abilities, and welcome those people?”

With many countries facing the challenge of an ageing workforce, organisations need to be prepared to confidently support and retain employees whose circumstances may change. When asked about AND’s role in relation to Australia’s ageing population, Suzanne commented on the very real possibility that people in their 40s, 50s and 60s will experience a ‘health incident’, such as arthritis, diabetes, back issues or musculoskeletal problems, and stressed the importance of staying in the workforce.

“We need to help people – and companies can do this through really promoting their willingness and their capability of making adjustments – to work through their health issues without separating from their employment, so that we can continue to be economically productive, while we’re solving our health issues.”

Further discussing the need for barrier-free workplaces, Suzanne highlighted how AND helps organisations build disability confidence into their wider business strategy.

“Making it [disability inclusion] work is helping specific organisations mould it – mould the language and mould the business process, so that it becomes part of their business-as-usual. When we can help businesses mould and really craft an effective strategy in their organisation, it becomes sustainable”, she said.

While it’s the big players, such as Apple, Microsoft, IBM and Woolworths, that are leading the way in Australia, Suzanne encourages all organisations to come to the party.

“No one is a competitor when it comes to [planning] what can we do to make it better and more inclusive for people with disability, and to welcome people as employees and customers. When we see the Millennials and Gen X value those characteristics…it makes me feel very positive about the direction in which we’re heading”, she said.

Watch the full interview on Facebook. Coming soon to the Human Potential at Work podcast

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