Disability:IN seeks inclusion for disabled-owned businesses

By Genny Hom-Franzen


Given the racial tensions of the last year, diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) has risen to the forefront. Companies are looking at ways to elevate the role of DEI to ensure that all stakeholders, including employees and customers, are happy.

 One organization helping corporations to fulfill DEI commitments is Disability:IN, the leading nonprofit resource for business disability inclusion worldwide. Its network of over 270 corporations expands opportunities for people with disabilities across enterprises. Based in Alexandria, Virginia, Disability:IN and its 25 affiliates serve as the collective voice to effect change for people with disabilities in business.

MBN USA recently caught up with Disability:IN’s President and CEO Jill Houghton to share her insights on disability inclusion.

Q: Can you share some statistics about disabled people in the United States?


  •          1.3 billion people with disabilities worldwide, or 15% of the population
  •          1 in 5 Americans have a disability 
  •          82% of the general population are employed. Among all people with disabilities of working age (29.4 million), 52% are employed. (Source: U.S. Census Bureau)
  •        Full-time, year-round U.S. workers with disabilities earned 87 cents per dollar for every dollar earned by those without disabilities. (Source: U.S. Census Bureau)

Q:  What is Disability:IN’s mission/focus?   


Disability:IN empowers business to achieve disability inclusion and equality. One of our primary focuses supplier diversity, as we are the leading third-party certification program for disability-owned business enterprises (DOBEs), including service-disabled and veteran disability-owned businesses. We link them to organizations seeking to diversify their supply chains.

Q: What are some of the misconceptions about disability your organization is trying to combat and how are you doing this?


People with disabilities still face discrimination in the workplace which negatively impacts their ability to find meaningful work. We help companies so people with disabilities can bring their whole selves to work – not just their work persona – and feel comfortable self-identifying as early as the recruitment stage so that they can get the support and accommodations they need to be productive and successful.

Q: How has your organization fared during COVID-19? What were some of the
main challenges and how did you overcome them?

During COVID, our Inclusion Works program grew as more companies are trying to be inclusive of all their employees’ needs. We now have 70 companies (up from 45 in January 2020) employing around 100,000 people with disabilities—nearly 300x growth in hires since 2014.

Post-COVID, companies are seeing how important it is to care for their employees’ physical and mental health. We’re now seeing an increased emphasis to continue pandemic benefits, from paid time off and caregiver benefits, to flexible and remote work, to mental health relief and wellness programs. All of this will greatly help workers with disabilities be more effective and happier in their jobs.

Q: What are Disability:IN’s short- and long-term goals?

Short term, we want to continue to make more corporations and professionals aware of the ways in which they can support disability inclusion. Our overarching campaign is ‘Are You In.’ It’s designed to bring everyone together to participate and be disability-inclusive.  

Longer term, we’re looking at ways to get more involved in corporate engagement and public policy efforts.

 Q: Please share more about the 60 CEOs "In" effort?

We’re so proud of the 60 CEOs who recognize that disability inclusion is critical for building sustainable futures. As signatories of the Disability:IN CEO Letter on Disability Inclusion, these CEOs are asking other Fortune 1000 CEOs to help advance disability inclusion and equality. So far, companies such as Target, Eli Lilly, Cargill, Starbucks, Pearson, Sony Interactive and Verizon have signed the letter. We hope more companies will join us!

Q: Tell us about your upcoming conference, https://disabilityin.org/2021conference/, known as the global corporate disability inclusion event of the year. (July 12-15).

Julie Sweet, CEO of Accenture [PLC], is the conference chair. Speakers include Marty Walsh, [U.S.] Secretary of Labor; Attorney Ted Kennedy Jr. and Janice Little, Executive Vice President, Human Resources, Lowe’s, to name a few. Programing is focused on disability-owned businesses and for corporate supplier diversity professionals. The sessions will reflect on what we have learned over the past year and a half and the future of supplier diversity. There is something for everyone!

Q: Why does it make sense for corporations to empower/employ people with disabilities?


The business case for disability inclusion is stronger than ever. People with disabilities bring unique talents and skills to the workplace. They adapt to situations easily, are creative problem solvers and resilient in the face of adversity. They help companies innovate products and services to make them more usable for everyone, providing a return on their diversity and inclusion investments. The Accenture report, “Getting to Equal: The Disability Inclusion Advantage,” says companies that embrace best practices for employing and supporting more persons with disabilities also earned 28% higher revenue, doubled net income and increased profit margins by 30%.

Q: What are a few actionable steps corporations can take to promote inclusion, including people with disabilities?

 On the business side, companies can attend our annual conference, join our ‘Are You In’ campaign and sign up for our newsletter. Also, companies can also start to register for the 2022 Disability Equality Index. (The Disability Equality Index (DEI) is a comprehensive bench marking tool helping companies build a roadmap of measurable, tangible actions towards disability inclusion and equality. Registration for the 2022 DEI will open on July 13, 2021.)

They can mentor and hire students in our Next Gen program. They can work with our disability-owned business enterprises (DOBE). They can participate in Inclusion Works, our consulting program that helps companies learn, create and share best practices. CEOs can sign the CEO Letter on Disability Inclusion. And, we also welcome corporate partners.

In the workplace, companies can ensure their environments are disability-inclusive. Some examples include:

  •          Supporting disability employee resource groups
  •          Have leaders publicly commit to making disability inclusion a strategic priority


Disability:IN Jill Houghton disabiity inclusion

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