As organizations across industries place more of their focus on improving diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace, they’ve also received some hard nudges to do so from shareholders, investors, analysts, and industry raters—including Fortune 500, which began prioritizing diversity as a metric in June 2021.
Much of this focus has centered on gender and race, but that’s changing as new attention falls on workers with disabilities. In turn, organizations have begun to push standards even further by adding a new letter to DEI—A for accessibility.
Here’s what diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility efforts could mean for society, business, and investors.
What Does Accessibility Mean?
On June 25, 2021, President Joe Biden signed the Executive Order on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility in the Federal Workforce with two goals:
- It directed that the government be a model employer of individuals with disabilities.
- It asked that the federal government ensure its workplaces were fully accessible and that employees knew their rights to request reasonable accommodations.
The order also raised questions about what accessibility means broadly. The federal government has more of a physical focus, saying that the design of workplaces must allow people with disabilities to properly access them. This includes not only ramps and other upgrades for mobility but also accommodations for other disabilities, such allowing those who are deaf or hard of hearing to request interpreters.
The American Alliance of Museums offers an expanded definition, saying accessibility should go beyond the physical environment to provide “equitable access to everyone along the continuum of human ability and experience.” To the Alliance, “It’s not just about the physical environment: It’s about access to and representation in content for all.”
The chamber of commerce for Columbus, Ohio, offers yet another perspective, defining access as “seeking to expand access to work with business, community, government leaders, and others to create multifaceted value in the way employers evolve in how they leverage diversity, instill equity, and lead with an inclusive lens.” This definition will continue to evolve as more organizations and institutions embrace and incorporate the term.
New Benefits Accessibility Can Bring
Roughly 61 million adults in the United States live with some sort of disability. If companies do not invest in accessibility, about a quarter of Americans may struggle to find work and succeed in it. That’s in part why the labor participation rate for disabled workers is 36.7%, less than half the rate of workers without a disability. This is particularly notable when the labor market is tight and companies need employees; millions of potential workers are waiting on the sidelines.
It’s not enough to just hire workers with disabilities. Without proper accessibility, they may not stay. A study from the Government Accountability Office, tracked the hiring and ongoing employment of disabled workers at federal agencies, found that the agencies hired more than 200,000 workers with disabilities over a six-year period—but 39% of these workers quit their jobs in less than a year.
Biden’s executive order aims to address this problem at the federal level by improving both hiring and retention for disabled workers and potentially inspire other companies to follow suit. As companies look to expand representation in their workforce, disability accessibility provides be one more factor to act on.
What It Means for Investors
Companies that invest in accessibility are not just helping others but also bolstering their bottom line. A study from the Center for Talent Innovation found that 75% of employees with disabilities report having ideas that would drive value for a company versus 66% of employees without disabilities.
An Accenture report also found that companies which follow best practices for employing and supporting people with disabilities had 28% higher revenue, double the net income and 30% higher profit margins over a four-year period than those that did not. By investing in companies that promote diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility, investors can potentially improve their portfolio returns while supporting efforts to address staffing issues and enable a worthwhile cause.
The Power of Greater Accessibility
ESG investors have unique visibility into how companies that support diversity, equity, and inclusion may perform compared to those that do not. By adding accessibility to this list of criteria, investors can help to push companies to new levels of success by removing inclusion barriers for disabled people.