Unleashing a billion abilities
December 01, 2022
December 01, 2022
When I talk to my peers in industry about inclusion initiatives at their organizations, there is more awareness than ever before, about the need to make workplaces welcoming for people with disabilities.
That may sound heartening, but let’s take a moment to balance it against reality. World Bank data reveals that 1 billion people around the world have a disability of some kind, and sadly, unemployment among people with disabilities can be as high as 80% in many countries.
When I consider these numbers, I am reminded not just of the loss of opportunity to these individuals, but of the tremendous loss of human capital to industry and to societies at large. An Accenture study with 1748 senior leaders across countries (675 of them with a disability) revealed that companies led by executives focused on disability engagement were actually growing 2.9 times faster on sales and 4.1x on profits, when compared to their peers.
Clearly, this is human capital that the world needs to embrace, and while many organizations have good intentions when it comes to people with disabilities, we need more.
These intentions need to be backed up by appropriate policy, adequate resourcing, tech-enabled execution, and most importantly, an organizational culture that supports such inclusion.
At Accenture, that has meant including measures such as:
We also realized that it’s not always easy for people with disabilities to find the right fit when it comes to such enablement. That led us to create a global platform for Reasonable Accommodation requests in 2020, which employees with disabilities now use to request for assistive technology, transportation or workplace modifications.
Another big idea has been the creation of Accessibility Centers at Accenture, an idea that was born when an employee in the Philippines who was hard of hearing, had to try on 30 different headsets before she could find the right one. Today, 32 such Accessibility Centers in Accenture offices around the globe, including one in Bangalore, help employees to find the right assistive technology for them.
Furthermore, the Activation Center offers a wide range of specialized services to help clients strategize, design and build inclusive applications to address accessibility-related challenges that they see at their organizations and help them become inclusive, thereby try and effect exponential change all around us.
If this seems like a diverse range of measures – that’s because disability itself is a spectrum covering a range of visible as well as invisible disabilities. Hence, organizations need to develop a holistic understanding of disability, which enables us to support and benefit from the widest range of people, all bringing their best at work.
So, while a few of our initiatives like ‘Inclusive Internship Program’ and ‘Aarambh’ aims to bridge the disability employment gap at the entry level with a dedicated hiring program, ‘Abilities Unleashed’ works to leverage strengths and build leadership skills for people with disabilities who are already at work and need such mentoring to thrive.
Nor do we have to think of people with disabilities only in their capacity as employees; there are many more ways in which organizations can create impact. One of my favorite examples is our partnership with Café Arpan which is hosted at the cafeteria at our Mumbai office. The café is run by individuals with neurodevelopmental disabilities.
I see such partnerships as crucial to making a larger impact in this space. That’s why we place a lot of importance on our ecosystem initiatives, such as Skills to Succeed, a partnership with NGOs to upskill more Persons with Disabilities to enable employment across Retail, IT and ITES sectors. We also celebrate the families of persons with disabilities and recognize the role that they plan in supporting persons with disabilities in their career journey.
We have consistently been walking the talk on ways to build a culture that accelerates a culture of Equality for All – in this context, it’s important to remind ourselves that inclusion does not stop with hiring diverse people but needs to include making them feel welcome at work.
For instance, it is not just people with disabilities that need to undergo training. Our facilities and transport staff have been trained and sensitized to provide appropriate support to persons with disabilities. Also, to ensure effective communication across teams, we’ve encouraged the use of Indian sign language at our offices and enabled more people to learn it. Our Disability Champions network is now a 36,000+ people strong consortium across 52 countries – these are the allies we need to make a workplace truly inclusive.
Countries and counting
Not just that, we’ve also created Employee Resource Groups for each disability type which are led and driven by persons with disabilities. These groups enable sharing of experiences, learnings, resources and other information that empower the community.
Approaching the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, while these are the measures we can be proud of, I feel that these beginnings should only drive us further, on the journey to sustained and holistic inclusion. In my own experience, greater awareness of and exposure to the lived experiences of people with disability has been a major force for change.
When we truly include people with disabilities, from boardroom discussions to watercooler conversations, and empower them to do their creative best, as an organization and as individuals - that’s when we will revolutionize what the future of work looks like.