Despite a strong job market and labor shortages in industries nationwide, a talent pool of nearly 11 million potential hires has remained largely untapped: people with disabilities.

Those employers who have embraced best practices for employing and supporting more persons with disabilities have reaped the benefits, financially outperforming their peers, according to a new study from Accenture.

Disability:IN and the American Association of People with Disabilities partnered with Accenture on the research, which appeared in a report titled Getting to Equal: The Disability Inclusion Advantage.

The report analyzed the disability practices and financial performance of the 140 companies participating in the Disability Equality Index—a benchmarking tool that gives U.S. businesses an objective score on their disability inclusion policies and practices—over the past four years.

Stronger Financial Performance

According to a statement from Accenture highlighting the report, previous research has shown that employees with disabilities offer substantial business benefits—including increased innovation, improved productivity, and a better work environment—but the new research reveals that best-in-class companies participating in the DEI have also performed better financially.

The 45 companies that Accenture identified as standing out for their leadership in areas specific to disability employment and inclusion had, on average over the four-year period, 28% higher revenue, double the net income, and 30% higher economic profit margins than the other companies in the DEI.

The research also shows that the 45 leading companies were twice as likely to have higher total shareholder returns than those of their peer group.

Furthermore, companies that have improved their inclusion of persons with disabilities over time were four times more likely than others to have total shareholder returns that outperformed those of their peer group.

Accenture analysis also revealed that U.S. GDP could get a boost of up to $25 billion if more persons with disabilities joined the labor force.

We are very pleased to see the report validate what we always believed.
"We are very pleased to see the report validate what we always believed," says Herb Kolodny, co-founder of the Connecticut Amputee Network.

"Amputees want to return to work; would be very loyal to their employers; and will gladly start buying goods and services from their local community, pay their taxes, and reintegrate with their community rather than become life-long shut-ins."

'Solid Business Sense'

"The research findings reinforce a message I’ve heard and rebroadcast for years: Recruit and employ people with disabilities not only because it feels good and is the right thing to do, but because it makes solid business sense," says CBIA HR Counsel Mark Soycher.

Soycher is a volunteer board member with Disability:IN Connecticut (formerly Connecticut Business Leadership Network), the state affiliate of Disability:IN.

"Through my longstanding collaboration with Disability:IN Connecticut, I’ve found invaluable resources and connections that expand my toolkit for advising CBIA members on the business case for inclusive employment practices," says Soycher

"This enables me to focus not just on helping members stay in compliance but also on their recruitment and retention practices, productivity, business growth and, ultimately, profitability."

Underrepresented Group

Persons with disabilities continue to be underrepresented in corporate America, says Accenture, reporting that despite the strength of the U.S. labor market, only 29% of Americans of working age (16–64) with disabilities were employed as of July 2018, compared with 75% of those without a disability, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

This results in an untapped talent pool of 10.7 million people. Additionally, the unemployment rate in 2017 for persons with a disability was more than twice that for those without a disability—9.2% versus 4.2%.

What accounts for this underrepresentation of people with disabilities?

The Accenture report argues that a lack of understanding of the scope of the talent available and the potential benefits, and misconceptions about the cost versus the ROI of disability inclusion account for employers' failing to leverage the talents of people with disabilities.

"The good news, according to our analysis," the report states, "is that U.S. organizations are successfully employing persons with disabilities and initiating and developing their disability inclusion programs."

Steps Employers Can Take

The report identifies four key actions that organizations can take to attract, hire, retain, and advance diverse talent:

1. Employ. Organizations must ensure that persons with disabilities are represented in their workplace. Beyond hiring, employers should implement practices that encourage and advance persons with disabilities.

2. Enable. Leaders must provide employees with disabilities with accessible tools and technology and/or a formal accommodations program.

3. Engage. To foster an inclusive culture, organizations must generate awareness-building—through recruitment efforts, disability education programs, and grassroots-led efforts (for example, an employee resource group).

4. Empower. Organizations must create empowering environments for employees with disabilities through mentoring and coaching initiatives, as well as through skilling/re-skilling programs, to ensure that they continue to advance and thrive.

CAN is a valuable resource for employers that want to take those steps, says Kolodny.

"If requested, we would visit a business and comment on physical access issues, if any, and review what accommodations, if any, they would have to make," he says.

Most accommodations cost very little or nothing to implement.

"Most accommodations cost very little or nothing to implement," adds Kolodny—a fact borne out by a study cited in the Accenture report from the U.S. Department of Labor's Job Accommodation Network, which showed that 59% of accommodations cost nothing to make, and the rest usually cost $500 per employee with a disability.

"Finally, and most importantly," says Kolodny, "we would post open positions on our social media, in mailings, and to all six amputee support groups in Connecticut."

That’s the type of hands-on assistance that makes for effective recruiting and accommodation, says Soycher.

"The four key actions listed above are essential," he says, "but a consistent obstacle, particularly for small to midsize companies with limited resources, is management’s discomfort with engaging an applicant or current employee in the collaborative dialogue required by the Americans with Disabilities Act intended to explore, identify, implement, and monitor possible accommodations.

"Basic background information about various disabilities and suggested practical, affordable accommodation strategies are available, if you know where to look. Connecting with organizations like CAN, Disability:IN Connecticut, and CBIA involve minimum effort with maximum returns."

'The Knowledge to Run Things'

Although the sample for the Accenture study comprised mainly larger companies, Kolodny believes small businesses also stand to benefit from hiring qualified job candidates with disabilities. 

"Mike lost all or part of his four limbs due to an internal infection," explains Kolodny, citing a real-world example.

"His former employer ran a machine shop and asked him to return to work as soon as he could. 'You have the knowledge to help me run things,' the employer said."

Kolodny added, "Mike was also a single parent to a young boy. After his insurance helped pay for two prosthetic legs, he became fully mobile, drove to work every day, worked for 17 years, and raised his son to adulthood."

Go-To Resources

The Connecticut Amputee Network is an advocacy group founded by amputees for amputees dedicated to communicating the amputee community's needs and concerns to elected officials at the local, state, and federal levels. CAN also provides information on the law and disability rights to the limb loss/limb difference community and invites elected officials to consult with them as experts on the amputee community's position on disability issues.

Disability:IN and its state affiliate Disability:IN Connecticut, are leading nonprofit resources for business disability inclusion support and services, with a mission to expand employment opportunities, supply chain relationships, and business ownership for people with disabilities.

The Governor's Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities provides education and awareness on the benefits of hiring qualified candidates with disabilities, promotes and supports the activities of local communities throughout the state to enhance the employment of persons with disabilities, and maintains an online list of disability resources for employers and jobseekers.

The Job Accommodation Network, funded by the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Disability Employment Policy, helps employers comply with disability nondiscrimination laws by advising on workplace accommodations for people with disabilities.

The ODEP-funded Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion helps employers foster disability-inclusive workplace cultures and recruit, hire, retain, and advance people with disabilities.


About the Accenture study: Research for the report is based on an analysis of 140 respondents to The Disability Equality Index (see below) between 2015 and 2018. Accenture developed a scoring system to identify companies that stood out for their leadership in areas specific to disability employment and inclusion. Accenture also analyzed two measures of financial performance for all 140 companies: profitability (revenues and net income) and value creation (economic profit margin).

The Disability Equality Index is an annual, transparent benchmarking tool conducted by Disability:IN that gives U.S. businesses an objective score on their disability inclusion policies and practices. It measures and weighs a wide range of criteria across key best practice categories: culture and leadership, community engagement and support services, employment practices, enterprise-wide access, and supplier diversity (currently unweighted, and therefore not included in this analysis). Companies participating in the DEI are typically large, with revenues of the total sample averaging $43 billion.