Employing people with disabilities has these four advantages for businesses: Ian Streets

As access consultants our role is first and foremost to make sure places, products and services are accessible. In fulfilling that we also look for any opportunities to highlight why that matters, and we found a first rate example in a report from a couple of academics in the USA.

Not surprisingly “Disability as a Source of Competitive Advantage”, published recently in the Harvard Business Review, focuses on the American working environment, but the points it makes are no less relevant in the UK or anywhere else.

The authors are UK accredited. Luisa Alemany is an associate professor at London Business School and a fellow at St Hugh’s College at Oxford University. Freek Vermeulen is a professor at London Business School.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The research suggests that having employees with disabilities in its workforce can build a firm’s competitive advantage in four ways.

Ian Streets of About Access offers his expert insight. Picture: Neil HolmesIan Streets of About Access offers his expert insight. Picture: Neil Holmes
Ian Streets of About Access offers his expert insight. Picture: Neil Holmes

First, disabilities often confer unique talents that make people better at particular jobs. The authors cite the example of Alan Turing, who was enlisted to help crack the Enigma code during the Second World War. They quote a study which indicated that Turing was probably on the autism spectrum.

The second point is that the presence of employees with disabilities elevates the culture of the entire organisation. The authors were consistently told by employees that working with disabled people provided a competitive advantage by fostering a more collaborative culture.

Third on the list is that a reputation for inclusiveness enhances a firm’s value proposition and customers become more willing to build long-term relationships. The authors report that people’s willingness to pay was significantly higher for a company that they liked and felt a communal relationship with.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The final point is that being recognised as socially responsible gives a firm an edge in the competition for capital and talent. The authors report that Bloomberg estimates that environmental, social, and governance related (ESG) assets topped $41 trillion in 2022 and will reach $50 trillion by 2025. They add that in Europe venture capitalists have started taking ESG factors into account in their investment decisions.

They also note that the prejudice which often deters employers from hiring people with disabilities actually makes it easier for more-enlightened companies to snap up highly-skilled people.

Further to that, if a considerable proportion of employees at a company had a disability, job seekers liked the company much more, were substantially more interested in working for it.

The authors finished with a quote from the creative director of Barcelona-based design studio La Casa de Carlota, who explained that the business approach is hard-headed rather than soft touch.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“There is nothing wrong with wanting to do good in the world, but there is also nothing wrong with wanting to do well, and the latter is enough reason to employ people with disabilities.”

All we can add is that if you want to give your business the competitive edge which comes from employing people with disabilities, you have to make sure your working environment is accessible.

Ian Streets, Managing Director of About Access, advises public and private sector bodies and businesses on accessibility legislation, issues and best practice.