Ted Kennedy Jr., co-chair of the Disability Equality Index and board member of the American Association of People with Disabilities, told CNBC that companies’ changing views toward remote-working and hybrid-working following the Covid-19 pandemic will allow more people with disabilities to enter the labor force.
The Disability Equality Index in the U.S. describes itself as the leading corporate benchmarking tool which measures and discloses participating company’s efforts in disability inclusion.
“Hybrid work and remote work are just a couple of the accommodations that many people with disabilities have been asking for. So, we think that companies’ views now of remote work will allow more people with disabilities to enter the labor force,” he said.
“It will make it easier for them to accommodate somebody, for example, with a mobility impairment for whom it is difficult to travel to and from work … Many employers are now looking, because of the tight labor market, are looking to this great untapped labor pool of people with disabilities,” he continued.
Over 1 billion people live with disabilities around the world today.
Speaking in the latest episode of CNBC’s “Finding Solutions,” Kennedy, who is a “paediatric bone cancer survivor and amputee” himself, also said that disability inclusion has become “the next chapter of ESG [environmental, social and governance] corporate social responsibility,” with evidence that companies who lead on the issue actually outperform their peers.
In 2018, Accenture partnered with Disability:IN and the American Association of People with Disabilities on the “Getting To Equal: The Disability Inclusion Advantage” report to provide new research on companies who included people with disabilities in their workforce.
“So this report looked at the hundreds of companies that participate in the DEI and compared those to the ones that did not, and they found 30% higher profitability, much higher revenue, four times more likely to outperform their peers in terms of total shareholder returns over time,” Kennedy told CNBC.
The DEI is a joint initiative between the AAPD and Disability:IN, which describes itself as “the leading nonprofit resource for business disability inclusion worldwide.”
Jill Houghton, president and CEO of Disability:IN, also told CNBC’s “Finding Solutions” that more progress in business is still needed, despite 2021 marking 31 years since the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed to prohibit discrimination against people with disabilities across several areas including employment.
“We are championing tools like the Disability Equality Index, because there is so much work to be done to create cultures where people with disabilities are not only included, but can have pride in the strength of having a disability in the business,” she said.
“[It] looks at things like culture and leadership, enterprise wide access, employment practices, community engagement, supplier diversity and non-U.S. operations. It has weighted questions and non-weighted questions, and it’s intended to help business identify tangible actions that they can take across their enterprise to include people with disabilities,” she added.
NEW YORK, NY – DECEMBER 06: Edward Kennedy Jr speaks onstage during RFK Human Rights Ripple of Hope Awards Honoring VP Joe Biden, Howard Schultz & Scott Minerd in New York City. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for RFK Ripple of Hope)
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In August, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission approved Nasdaq’s plans to have their listed companies publicly disclose their board-level diversity statistics.
According to Nasdaq: “The rules would additionally require most Nasdaq-listed companies to have, or explain why they do not have, at least two diverse directors, including one who self-identifies as female and one who self-identifies as either an underrepresented minority or LGBTQ+.”
People with disabilities were not included in the new diversity rules.
Kennedy told CNBC: “We’re very disappointed [with the decision], we’re not going to give up”.
Asked how damaging it was to the work that he does and if it felt like a snub, he said: “Well it feels like a snub, but, you know, we’re playing the long game, and we have to remember as we’re sitting here having this conversation, that it wasn’t too long ago where we were talking about gender diversity on boards and now it’s really unthinkable, at least in the United States, to have a corporate board without a member of a racial or ethnic minority on their corporate board,” he said.
“So the disability rights movement … for many years, many decades, I would say piggybacked on the rights movements that have gone before us; the civil rights movement of the 60s, the women’s movement, the gay rights movement, and now the disability rights movement,” he added.
Kennedy’s father, Ted Kennedy, was a United States senator and a “principal proponent of disability civil rights.”
Kennedy said his father and uncles, including former U.S. President John F. Kennedy, saw how his aunt Rosemary, who he said lived with an “intellectual disability,” was often ignored and mistreated.
“I think that that really inspired my family’s interest and action and energy and the cause of civil rights, because I think they saw the unfairness of it all, and really wanted to do whatever they could to address those changes. So, it’s been a part of the Kennedy family ethic for many, many years,” he said.
Asked for her message to businesses who aren’t yet fully inclusive on their boards, Jill Houghton told CNBC: “The time is now, don’t wait … So, include people with disabilities from the top down because it matters to your workforce and to your customers and to your investors.”