Future of Work

Disability inclusion is not discretionary. It is a must

Founder and CEO Caroline Casey outlines why disability inclusion in the workplace is essential for employees and businesses alike.

Founder and CEO Caroline Casey outlines why disability inclusion in the workplace is essential for employees and businesses alike. Image: Unsplash/Clay Banks

Caroline Casey
Founder and Director, The Valuable 500
Share:
Our Impact
What's the World Economic Forum doing to accelerate action on Future of Work?
The Big Picture
Explore and monitor how Future of Work is affecting economies, industries and global issues
A hand holding a looking glass by a lake
Crowdsource Innovation
Get involved with our crowdsourced digital platform to deliver impact at scale
Stay up to date:

Future of Work

Listen to the article

  • The International Day of Persons with Disabilities aims to promote the rights and wellbeing of people with disabilities in all spheres of society.
  • The Valuable 500 initiative uses business as a vehicle to address the inequality and inequity of people with disabilities across society.
  • Founder and CEO Caroline Casey outlines why disability inclusion in the workplace is essential for employees and businesses alike.

Although I was diagnosed with ocular albinism at six months old, my parents made the decision to not inform me and I was raised as a sighted child, attended a ‘normal’ mainstream school and my low vision was never discussed.

I inadvertently found out the ‘truth’ when I was 17 and refused to accept it as I did not want to deal with it. I threw myself into the closet and proceeded to dwell there for the next 11 years. At 28, I finally began the journey of self-acceptance.

The irony of the phrase ‘hiding in plain sight’ was not lost on me as I contorted my needs and stifled my voice. I was petrified of being a burden or asking for help. Back then, I thought that asking for help would be deemed as attention seeking, that my peers would view me as less than and not capable of doing my job.

I spent so much of my formative years passing as a sighted person and finding workarounds that when I could no longer mask my needs, I did not know how to tell my employers. Holding back such an integral part of who I was felt exhausting and I found myself trebling my workload. Never again.

More than 1.3 billion people across the world live with some form of disability and, with an ageing population, this number is steadily increasing. Having an inclusive society that benefits everyone needs to shift from being an ideal into a fully-fledged reality.

It is unacceptable for CEOs, board members and other key decision makers to continue to ignore 20% of the population. Whilst I may be legally blind, having limited sight does not stop me from having vision and I truly believe in the power of the collective.

"Whilst I may be legally blind, having limited sight does not stop me from having vision and I truly believe in the power of the collective."

Caroline Casey, Founder of The Valuable 500

By galvanising 500 of the world’s most powerful CEOs to commit to putting disability inclusion in their business agendas we can affect real and meaningful change. Leaders know that it is in their interest to join our community and they trust us to point them in the right direction when it comes to inclusion. This is all about ensuring culture change – leaders make choices and choices create culture.

There is a desperate need for systemic change – not just inspiring moments. Despite a growing focus on diversity and inclusion (D&I) in business, disability continues to be caught in a systemic blind spot, preventing true change from occurring.

We must interrogate why disability inclusion remains the poor cousin of D&I and do better. The New York Times recently published an expose that featured doctors openly admitting that people with disabilities were less desirable patients, with discriminatory discourse that portrayed disability as an inconvenience.

Unfortunately, this study was merely symptomatic of a wider issue across business and society, which is an understanding that the disability community is not of value.

Disability inclusion is essential for both employees and businesses

Time and again, disability is excluded from strategies and initiatives by major businesses who claim to be doing better or leading with purpose-led values. A report from the Return on Disability Group, highlights that although 90% of companies claim to prioritize diversity, only 4% consider disability in their workplace policies.

Have you read?

Even in 2022, companies are still picking and choosing one form of inclusion over another. D&I is treated like an ‘a la carte’ where protecting the vulnerable in our society becomes a choice or competition between different groups, rather than a set menu of addressing each equally. We must do better.

Business growth is fuelled by innovation, and the disabled community offers fresh talent and a diversity of thought that can drive productivity.

It is not just skills and time that disabled people can contribute to business, but their key attributes of resilience, tenacity and optimism, built up through lived experience. A 2020 Accenture study found that businesses who focus on disability inclusion grow their sales 2.9 times faster, and their profits 4.1 times faster than other companies.

In the turbulence of today’s global economy, businesses that fail to recognise the merits of disabled talent and insights will lose out on a competitive edge and damage their long-term success. Inclusion is for everyone, you do not get to pick and mix inclusion – its either in its entirety or not at all.

"Inclusion is for everyone, you do not get to pick and mix inclusion, either in its entirety or not at all."

Caroline Casey, Founder of The Valuable 500

Failing to include the disabled community in process and product is not a momentary fiscal error. Responsible and sustainable investing is projected to grow at a rapid pace in the future and disability inclusion is essential: cutting across virtually every social issue in environmental, social and governance targets.

Yet it remains the forgotten frontier. Disability inclusion attracts investors who are now seeking greater diversity metrics, increases returns to shareholders, and is a powerful tool for creating lasting value in companies, and most importantly, across society.

All evidence points to inclusion as strategic: driving better performance, a larger market, and increased profits. Gone are the days in which we plead for disability inclusion as we have begun to lead the charge towards universal corporate culture and accessible design. It is now an issue of risk and future proofing for us all.

This is why the work the Valuable 500 do is so important. By using business as a vehicle to address the inequality and inequity of people with disabilities across society, we are galvanising the power of the collective to cultivate an incubator for change.

Spanning over 64 sectors, having headquarters in 41 countries and consisting of more than 22 million employees, the Valuable 500 are striving to eradicate the exclusion of people with a disability and enact systemic change from C-suite to junior level.

The Valuable 500 are aspiring to transform the business system from the top down in order to create a systemic awakening. We have moved beyond seeking commitments and simply discussing the issues of our members individual journeys.

Now at Phase 2, we will be harnessing the power of the collective in order to effect simultaneous synchronised action against barriers such as the systemic lack of leadership, reporting and representation.

Over the next three years we will be launching a series of solutions geared at equipping our members with the resources to ensure their workplaces, supply chains and products are fully inclusive.

Disability inclusion is not discretionary – it is a must. Businesses need to put real money behind positions of influence as well as incorporate leadership with disability experience.

Don't miss any update on this topic

Create a free account and access your personalized content collection with our latest publications and analyses.

Sign up for free

License and Republishing

World Economic Forum articles may be republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License, and in accordance with our Terms of Use.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Related topics:
Future of WorkFuture of WorkHealth and HealthcareGlobal Health
Share:
World Economic Forum logo
Global Agenda

The Agenda Weekly

A weekly update of the most important issues driving the global agenda

Subscribe today

You can unsubscribe at any time using the link in our emails. For more details, review our privacy policy.

6:22

Digital Cooperation Organization - Deemah Al Yahya

Kara Baskin

February 22, 2024

About Us

Events

Media

Partners & Members

  • Join Us

Language Editions

Privacy Policy & Terms of Service

© 2024 World Economic Forum