As we enter the second quarter of 2019, we are seeing more companies talking about disability inclusion and engagement than ever before. Whether its conversations about strategic planning, hiring and retention, or setting up demos for our iDisabilityTM product, it is easy to see that disability is a hot topic for businesses across the United States this year. The increase in enthusiasm for workforce innovation around the area of disability inclusion and engagement are a result of a number of factors that have impacted conversations about disability employment over the last several months.

As this shift in thinking continues over the course of this year, companies will reexamine existing practices and partnerships to determine best results for addressing barriers to employment for people with disabilities. Universities and colleges who have had long-term partnerships with companies will most likely become a part of this conversation, as both resources for information and engagement of employee resources. As such, it will be important for these institutions to be prepared for both the increase in questions about disability inclusion and the changing landscape of the conversation about what disability inclusion success looks like.

So, what are the factors that are impacting the conversation on disability employment? What questions do colleges and universities need to be ready for? Read on to learn more.

  1. Proven Positive Impact of Hiring People with Disabilities on the Corporate Bottom Line

The word is out. People with disabilities make great employees and have a positive impact on the bottom line. In Getting to Equal: The Disability Inclusion Advantage, Accenture found that Champions of disability employment using the Disability Equality Index outperformed on both profitability and value creation. These Champions outperformed their peers. They were found to have double the net income, achieved on average 28% higher revenue, and 30% higher economic profit margins than their peers.

What does this mean for employers? Antiquated resistance to inclusion of people with disabilities is being addressed head on with data showing the benefits of hiring from this talent pool. The Accenture study directly speaks to the bottom line and addresses misconceptions about cost outweighing the benefit of hiring people with disabilities. Employees with disabilities lead to increased innovation and improved productivity.

This means employers are increasing focus on hiring of people with disabilities and disability specific hiring programs. On average, one in every four adults has a disability. However, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities is more than twice that of the non-disabled population. According to Accenture, research suggests that if people with disabilities are included in the talent pool, the pool will be increased by more than 10 million people.

  1. Federal Contractor Diversity Hiring Compliance Requirements

Although it has been over 40 years since Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and nearly 30 years since the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed in 1990, there has been no significant change in the unemployment rate for people with disabilities. In 2013, OFCCP published the final rule for Section 503 to establish a 7% aspirational hiring goal for federal contractors and subcontractors.

OFCCP Director, Craig Leen has publicly stated that on-site focused reviews will be conducted in 2019 to determine if federal contractors and subcontractors are taking action to meet compliance with the 7% aspirational goal for people with disabilities. As a parent of children with disabilities, Director Leen has made it clear that he believes that it is important to create an inclusive environment for people with disabilities and that he wants to bring experience in advocating for the disability community to the OFCCP.

For employers whose revenue is supported in large from federal contracts, inclusion of people with disabilities will be an important aspect of continuing to execute on contracts. As a part of doing business with federal agencies, contractors are required to meet certain affirmative action criteria to demonstrate they are meeting laws and regulations that prevent discrimination, including discrimination in hiring practices of people with disabilities. As these focused reviews take place throughout the year, federal contractors will be taking steps to ensure they are in compliance with these regulations. Failure to comply could mean loss in revenue.

  1. Investor Requests about Corporate Disability Inclusion Reporting

Fast on the heels of the Accenture study released last year, we began to see investors asking companies to report on corporate disability inclusion practices. In January of this year, New York State Comptroller, Thomas DiNapoli, contacted 49 of the largest U.S. companies to request information about hiring and inclusion practices across the enterprises. DiNapoli stated that, “we want the companies our pension fund invests in to be desirable places to work for everyone.”

Not only did DiNapoli make this request, but he also made sample letters available publicly for other investors to use as a template or guidance in asking about disability inclusion reporting. In his letters, DiNapoli strongly urged companies to participate in the DEI as this tool would afford investors the opportunity to understand “which companies are participating, how they rank, and their commitment to disability inclusion in their workforce.”

As the Comptroller for the state of New York, DiNapoli manages an estimated $207.4 billion in assets. His message is clear, disability inclusion will be a factor in determining which companies he will invest in.

In an op-ed published in The New York Times, AAPD Board Chair, Ted Kennedy, Jr., shared the following about hiring people with disabilities, “it turns out that reaching this next frontier for corporate social responsibility is also good business.” Smart investors like DiNapoli are looking to cash-in on that business.

What does this mean for colleges and universities? Companies will be looking at their talent pool partnerships to identify innovative ways to attract people with disabilities to apply with their company. For companies that have partnerships with colleges and universities, it will become important for them to understand the diversity of their student body, as well as how to attract candidates attending the institution who fall within this segment of the population. Colleges and universities should anticipate questions about what they are doing to attract students with disabilities to enroll in programs that meet the needs of businesses in America and how they are accommodating those students to ensure their success.

Some companies are taking an active role in helping individuals with disabilities to build skills and competencies to meet the competitive demands of today’s workforce, by investing money in developing scholarships programs for students with disabilities, like Bank of America’s Abilities Fund. For colleges and universities that want to receive this funding, they will need to attract students with disabilities to their campus. In order to do this, these institutions will need to be prepared to demonstrate how they will accommodate students in the physical environment, digital world, and in pursuing their desired course of study.

Some companies are offering workforce development opportunities, specifically targeted to early career professionals with disabilities. Careers2B is one such program, which is sponsored by companies like Highmark, and provides individuals with disabilities with a year of hands on work experience in marketable areas such as finance, human resources, procurement, and STEM career fields.

Organizations and agencies who have historically invested funding for students with disabilities to complete marketable hiring programs, will be looking for results and success for students at these institutions, both academically and how they are supported when conducting their career search. Schools who have already established programs to assist their students with disabilities beyond classroom accommodations will be ahead of the game.

In addition to looking to colleges and universities to increase the talent pool of candidates with disabilities, companies will also be looking at curriculum that is provided to students in business programs about inclusion and engagement of this group of people. Institutions still providing antiquated training and feeding misconceptions that hiring people with disabilities is a burden on the corporate bottom line will be left behind for those who are teaching students the inherent values of hiring people with disabilities.

Now more than ever, students interested in careers in technology, need exposure to digital accessibility guidelines that will make a difference in their career trajectory, as companies work to ensure their internal and external digital presence is accessible for all people. Institutions that provide curriculum in this area or partner to provide this training will produce graduates that are more sought after than others.

For colleges and universities offering programs in marketing, corporate communications, or public relations, employers will be asking how they will engage the community of people with disabilities. As the third largest market segment in the United States, according to the Office of Disability Employment Policy, companies will be looking for employees who can contribute to developing and marketing products and services that meet the needs of consumers with disabilities.

As exciting innovations and further data becomes available in the area of disability inclusion and engagement, more and more we will see how colleges and universities can be a part of the catalyst for success in this area. I am thrilled for the opportunity for our college partners, such as NTID, who have demonstrated leadership in this area, to be a part of the discussion for change.

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