Businesses are finally answering the cries for disability inclusion

Major corporations such as Airbnb, Mitsubishi Chemical, Nationwide, SAP, UniCredit and Wipro sign up to global disability inclusion movement – The Valuable 500

Today, The Valuable 500 marks Global Accessibility Awareness Day and the UN’s World Day for Cultural Diversity and Dialogue by calling on business leaders around the world to learn from the COVID-19 pandemic and ensure disability inclusion is central to their leadership agendas.

This comes as Airbnb, BMI Healthcare, Charles Russell Speechlys, DPD, Ecolab, Fidelity International, Mitsubishi Chemical, Nationwide, pladis, SAP, Scottish Water, Smurfit Kappa, Soneva, SSEN, Stephenson Harwood, UniCredit and Wipro are announced as the latest companies to join The Valuable 500 – the global movement which is working to get 500 of the world’s largest businesses to commit to placing disability inclusion on their business leadership agendas.

Currently, 15% of people live with some form of disability. When you include the family of those living with a disability, this number rises to 53%. This 53% wield a significant amount of business potential, from spending power with a disposable annual income totalling $8 trillion, to talent and skills.

Launched on the main stage at the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting in January 2019, 275 companies have since pledged to join The Valuable 500 and put disability on the business leadership agenda – with an additional 200 organisations actively discussing how they can join the movement. The combined revenue of its members is now over €4 trillion, with over 10 million employees and reaching across 26 countries globally.

The Valuable 500 is calling on business leaders to act on the structural inequalities against people with disabilities when it comes to accessibility and inclusion, which the COVID-19 crisis has brought to the fore.

These issues are evident throughout the business value chain, from reasonable accommodations for employees to customers’ accessibility to vital public safety information disseminated on websites and other forms of media.

In 2019, the UK’s Click-Away Pound survey found that business lost £17.1 billion due to customers abandoning a retail website because of lack of accessibility. In a period of social distancing where digital communication has become even more integrated and relied upon every day, in both business and social spheres, captioning and audio description on digital media and websites is still not the norm.

A report launched at the end of last year by UK union organisation UNISON, revealed that 67% of disabled workers surveyed across the UK had reasonable adjustments in the workplace requests rejected. Yet, months later many of these adjustments have been made in response to the Coronavirus.

As the UK begins to analyse what life might look like post lockdown; disability activists are calling for the degrees of flexibility and accommodation currently introduced to continue to allow a more accessible business landscape going forward.

There has been widespread action from the business community in stepping forward to support a broad cross-section of society in the face of the pandemic. Businesses have responded rapidly and with great agility to the impact of the virus, taking actions to protect employees and customers alike, from dedicated shopping hours for the vulnerable to full-paid sick leave for vulnerable employers who need to self-isolate. The pandemic has also demonstrated the value of a diversity of lived experience in businesses during this unprecedented time.

Many of the Valuable 500 companies have already produced initiatives changing the lives of those with disabilities. Microsoft have created the Disability Answer Desk to provide an inclusive tech support team for customers with disabilities. In India 4 million IT workers had to shift to working from home overnight, however this transition was easy for IBM workers, who already had accessibility built into their systems. And looking beyond the current conditions we are currently living, Barclays and WPP have announced flexible working initiatives post crisis which will promote accessibility across all levels.

Caroline Casey, Founder of The Valuable 500, commented: “As people globally are implored to stay at home to prevent the spread of coronavirus, we are now entering a world where vast swathes of society can personally relate to what it is like to be socially excluded. It has awoken a collective empathy, both in society and business more broadly, that this is often the norm for people with disabilities.

“Businesses have proven that they can adapt and revolutionise working models in a short time frame when forced to do so – now, business leaders must continue this approach in levelling the playing field when it comes to equal accessibility and opportunity for all in the business community. The onus is equally on business leaders as it is the rest of society to take a firm, proactive stance in leading this change.”

Caroline will also be taking part in the Creative Diversity Dialogue today, to mark International Diversity Day. BBC Director General Tony Hall and UN Deputy Secretary General Amina J Mohammed will host a high-level global virtual dialogue in association with Linked-In Live on how the creative industry builds back better post pandemic with Diversity & Inclusion at the heart of the “new normal”.

The latest Valuable 500 companies announced today join a community including some of the world’s largest corporations across a plethora of sectors, from technology and finance to the creative industries: Accenture, BBC, Buzzfeed, Coca-Cola European Partners, Microsoft and Virgin Media are among its members.

Many of The Valuable 500 community have played an integral role in stepping forward to support communities during the pandemic. UniCredit strengthened its remote banking channels and worked with its Foundation to support communities and healthcare professionals in all its markets; in Italy, the Group has extended its employee healthcare cover to include Covid-19. Unilever will offer €500 million (approximately $540 million USD) of cash flow relief worldwide to support livelihoods across its extended value chain, while O2 has ensured its customers can access important sites, such as a citizensadvice.org.uk and scope.org.uk, without using data allowance.

Casey added: “We are excited to welcome the new sign-ups joining The Valuable 500 community today and are proud of their demonstrative commitment to acting on the importance of disability inclusion during this global public health crisis. We are confident that they will be at the forefront of the businesses capitalising on the collective awakening of empathy to ensure disability inclusion is firmly integrated into the business landscape.”

The campaign is striving to have 500 global business leaders and CEOs signed up to the initiative by January 2021, coinciding with Davos 2021.

Brian Chesky, CEO and Co-Founder of Airbnb, said: “Airbnb’s mission is to create a world where anyone can belong anywhere and this, of course, includes people with disabilities. We are working hard to make sure our products and services are widely accessible, especially for hosts and guests with disabilities. Airbnb is deeply committed to fostering an inclusive and diverse community, and we are delighted to join Valuable 500.”

Anne Richards, CEO at Fidelity International, added: “Fidelity International are proud to be joining The Valuable 500 movement, driving forward our commitment to inclusivity for all our customers and employees. We want to play our part in creating a society where everyone can thrive so we are delighted to offer our support to this excellent campaign.”