People with disabilities are too often placed on the sidelines when it comes to businesses improving the inclusivity and diversity of their workforces, a leading activist has claimed.
Irish social entrepreneur Caroline Casey told an audience in Leeds that British business was still not taking advantage of a domestic market of some 13 million people with disabilities and their combined purchasing power of £249bn.
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Speaking at the Barclays Supporting Businesses to become more Disability Confident event at The Mansion venue in Roundhay, Leeds, Ms Casey - a former management consultant turned disability activist - said that there were currently more clothes designed to be worn by dogs than those manufactured for disabled people.
“We have to extend inclusion equally to include disability,” she said.
“You can’t have different parts of humanity competing against each other. When did we ever think that was OK? When did we think it was OK to silo up our humanity? How will business ever be able to reflect society without that?
“What is happening with that siloed, categorised concept of inclusion, disability has been on the sidelines.”
Citing research from the World Health Organisation that showed 98 per cent of people are likely to experience disability at some point in their lives, Ms Casey - who is registered blind - said that many businesses were missing a massive market by failing to be more inclusive.
“I don’t think business really understood this unbelievable opportunity sitting on the table, a global market of £8 trillion.
“My obsessive belief is that when business includes society follows, when business values society values and when it excludes society does so too.”
She added that best practice around inclusion was being driven by small and medium-sized firms, claiming that they are better connected to their communities.
She currently is spearheading the Valuable 500 organisation which is looking to improve inclusion among large corporates - a movement which Barclays has committed to.
“This is about every single one of us,” said Ms Casey.
“This is about future proofing our world.
“I am no longer selling the business case for this. Those who are not involved are at risk in terms of what they are missing out on.”