By Ted Kennedy Jr.
Published in Opinion Section of The New York Times
For years, companies have maintained low expectations about hiring people with disabilities. Most of these companies believed that employees with disabilities could not perform well in the workplace and that actively hiring them would drag company performance and profits down.
Thankfully, over time, many employers have come to understand that these perceptions are untrue. And new research strongly suggests that the opposite — that hiring people with disabilities is good for business.
A recent study has shown, for the first time, that companies that championed people with disabilities actually outperformed others — driving profitability and shareholder returns. Revenues were 28 percent higher, net income 200 percent higher, and profit margins 30 percent higher. Companies that improved internal practices for disability inclusion were also four times more likely to see higher total shareholder returns.
These findings, presented in a report from Accenture, in partnership with Disability: IN and the American Association of People with Disabilities, give companies a new reason to hire people with disabilities. The results are based on an analysis of the financial performance of 140 companies that averaged annual revenues of $43 billion and participated in the Disability Equality Index, an annual benchmarking tool that objectively rates company disability policies and practices.
What exactly are these exemplary companies doing?
Well, Bank of America brought together 300 people with intellectual disabilities to create a support services team to manage fulfillment services and external client engagement. Microsoft built a successful disability hiring program specifically for people on the autism spectrum. The program, designed to attract talent, is a multiday, hands-on academy that gives candidates an opportunity to meet hiring managers and learn about the company as an employer of choice. And CVS Health refocused its training programs to capitalize on characteristics — creativity, problem-solving ability and loyalty — that people with disabilities often demonstrate.
The new research identifies five common denominators among such organizations. First, they hire people with disabilities, ensuring that they’re represented in the workplace. Second, they carry out practices that encourage and advance those employees. Third, they provide accessible tools and technologies, paired with a formal accommodations program. Fourth, they generate awareness through recruitment efforts, disability education programs and grass-roots-led initiatives. Fifth, they create empowering environments through mentoring and coaching initiatives.
I lost my leg to bone cancer at age 12. Since then, I have fought, as a citizen, attorney and legislator, for the civil rights of people with disabilities. All of us deserve to be valued equally and provided the opportunity to participate fully in our society.
I was brought up in the disability rights movement. My uncle, President John F. Kennedy, left an important legacy on this front. Influenced by his experiences with his sister, Rosemary, President Kennedy witnessed firsthand how differently she was treated — how often she was ignored and excluded. He became the first president to make equality and social justice for people with disabilities a priority for his administration.
The last law that he signed before he died was the Community Mental Health Act, which called for an end to “custodial isolation” and created America’s network of community mental health centers. Congress has since passed more than 120 laws expanding disability rights, forever changing public attitudes.