We are one year away from the 30th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and still the needle for employment has not moved for people with disabilities. We have seen, since the passing of this legislation, a change in our built environments, ramps have been installed, bathrooms have been made accessible, parking lots have reserved spaces and buses have lifts, braille is on elevators in office buildings and closed captioning on our television sets. Sadly, despite the success of making space accessible for people with disabilities, they are still being left out when it comes to making hiring decisions.

The regulations and expectations of the ADA are clear – employers must be equal in their inclusion of people with disabilities in the workforce. However, employers still are looking for answers on what success looks like and people with disabilities are still unemployed at a higher rate than any other group in America. It is clear that steps must be taken to bridge this gap, from both the side of enforcing the promise of the ADA and providing support to employers seeking to reach excellence in this area.

One of the tools that has the propensity to help make a difference in the employment of people with disabilities is the Disability Equality Index (DEI). The DEI, brought to market by the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) and Disability:IN, has received much attention over the past year and will continue to be a major conversation this summer at the Disability:IN conference. The DEI is a benchmarking tool that allows employers to evaluate their current disability inclusion practices and identify areas of success and areas of improvement.

1. The DEI specifically addresses the area where the ADA has seen its greatest failure – employment.

The DEI offers employers a rating of 0-100 with 100 being the top score after examining disability inclusion practices, including areas related to culture and leadership, enterprise-wide access, employment, and community engagement and supplier diversity.

The DEI helps participating companies to create a road map for success in disability inclusion and is having an impact in helping companies to meet goals. Participants have increased their ratings since its inception and brought to light examples of best practices for other employers to adapt. By sharing information on successes, other businesses can create policies and programs that further their inclusion of people with disabilities. In 2015, only 22.5% of participants received a 100-rating compared to 2018 when 62.7% of companies received a 100 rating.

2. The DEI provides people with disabilities a list of inclusive companies.

A list of companies receiving a rating of 80 or higher on the DEI is published every year and companies in this tier receive recognition as one of the Best Places to Work for Disability Inclusion. This allows employers to build their brand as an inclusive company with the disability community, current and prospective employees, investors and customers – including consumers with disabilities.

This allows job seekers to identify companies that have an inclusive environment. Including people with disabilities within the workforce provides the ability to increase the size of the talent pool by more than 10 million people. For companies looking to hire the best and the brightest in career fields where there is an increasing talent shortage, people with disabilities can bridge the gap. The DEI helps job seekers with disabilities to identify those employers who have the most progressively inclusive and innovative environments; these top scoring companies will attract the most applicants from this talent pool.

3. Informs investors of the positive impact of including people with disabilities in the workforce.

In addition to offering employers a chance to identify best practices for inclusion of people with disabilities and offering the disability community insight into which companies have the most inclusive practices, the DEI has also provided the opportunity to compare organizations that are inclusive with those that are not. In the study, Getting to Equal, conducted by Accenture it was clear that companies who score high on the DEI are outperforming and earning higher profits than their competitors.

This study has led to a group of socially responsible investors, led by Tom DiNapoli, the Comptroller of NY, with a combined trillion dollars of funds, to ask companies to report on their disability inclusion practices. They are asking these questions in part due to the overwhelming evidence gathered by the DEI that demonstrates that inclusion of people with disabilities increases a company’s opportunity for success and growth. These investors will have a tremendous impact on a company’s desire to be inclusive, since investment decisions will be impacted by their ability to create an inclusive environment.

Disability:IN and AAPD, under the guidance of Ted Kennedy, Jr. have offered businesses in the United States an opportunity to honor the spirit of the ADA through engaging in the DEI. This tool can be used for company’s to identify excellence and build their brand as an Employer of Choice for the disability community, guide people with disabilities in identifying companies who offer the most inclusive environment and therefore the most opportunity for a successful career, and guide consumers and investors in making decisions on which companies are taking advantage of the full-spectrum of the talent pool available to them.

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