Nearly all businesses are aware of disability issues, but more needs to be done

A new study of 120 global brands shows how over 90 per cent of businesses now recognise the importance of disabled employees and customers. The study is the first to consider how businesses are serving the needs of disabled people at a global and local level and how to share best practice.

The study, called Towards a Disability-Smart World: Developing a global disability inclusion strategy, was conducted by Business Disability Forum in partnership with energy company Royal Dutch Shell.  It draws on evidence and case studies from the experience of organisations including Shell, Unilever, HSBC, Accenture and Microsoft.

The report suggests that:

  • More than 90 per cent of respondents state that ‘disability inclusion is the right thing to do’ at a global level.
  • More than 80 per cent state that it allows them to access a wider pool of talent, drives employee motivation, has an impact on sales and opportunities and supports business objectives.

Yet, whilst more than 80 per cent of respondents say that their organisation had made one or more commitment to disability inclusion at a central level, only about 20 per cent of respondents had a global strategy for disability inclusion in place and resourced.

The study identifies several common barriers to creating a global strategy for disability inclusion. These include:

  • Cultural differences in the way disability is understood.
  • Levels of engagement with disability and accessibility in some countries.
  • Varying legal requirements between countries.
  • Resources and systematic data collection.
  • Gaining the commitment of local champions and managers.

For organisations which have worked to overcome these challenges the benefits are clear, with over 80 per cent reporting improvements for disabled colleagues and customers on a global scale. Over 90 per cent reported senior level buy-in at an early stage to be key in gaining engagement, traction, and stronger accountability at a local level.



The study claims that workplace adjustments, along with recruitment and onboarding, are the areas where businesses have made the most progress in disability inclusion. These were followed by buildings and built environments; digital technology; and retention and development of employees. Communication and marketing; customer or client experience; and procurement and supply chain, were the areas where there is the least evidence of progression.

The study draws on feedback and case studies from respondents to highlight some fundamental lessons for organisations looking to develop their own global disability inclusion strategy and to provide a practical roadmap to others starting out:

  • Don’t underestimate the complexity of a global disability inclusion strategy and how long it might take. Focus on intentions, rather than perfection.
  • Don’t be overwhelmed. Start small, by focusing on one or two activities and locations. Gather evidence and then scale up.
  • Engage business leads and people with disabilities at regional and local levels to gather insights and inform global strategy. Working collaboratively will empower colleagues to interpret and execute global commitments to disability in ways that are culturally and legally appropriate for their country.
  • Identify a senior global disability inclusion champion, early on, to drive forward the strategy.
  • Disability impacts on every area of the organisation. Bring together colleagues with key responsibility for strategic functions across HR, recruitment, the built environment and technology.

Image by Javier Robles