Diversity & Inclusion, Learning & Development

How Corporate Leaders and Policy Makers Can Do More to Include Disabled Entrepreneurs

In the pursuit of fostering a diverse and inclusive economy, one group often faces a myriad of challenges that remain largely invisible to the untrained eye – individuals with disabilities. While strides have been made in recognizing and addressing the barriers faced by this demographic, there is still much work to be done to ensure equal access and opportunity for individuals with disabilities.

What the Data Says

One of the most pressing issues confronting individuals with disabilities in the business world is the persistent lack of accessibility. 1 in 4 Americans have some type of disability according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Yet individuals with disabilities face significantly higher unemployment and lower labor force participation than those without according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Physical barriers, digital inaccessibility, and an overall lack of workplace accommodation continue to impede the full participation of disabled individuals in the private sector.

The societal stigma attached to disabilities exacerbates the challenges these individuals face in the workforce. Negative stereotypes and misconceptions often lead to unconscious biases, hindering the recruitment and promotion of qualified individuals with disabilities. Many capable and skilled individuals are overlooked, contributing to the perpetuation of inequality in the workforce that fails to harness the diverse talents and perspectives that individuals with disabilities bring to the table. This is despite recent research in the Harvard Business Review finding individuals with disabilities provide employers with several competitive advantages, including the unique talents of people with disabilities and a reputation for inclusivity.

Luckily, entrepreneurship provides a critical pathway to fulfilling work. Indeed, people with disabilities are nearly 50 percent more likely to be self-employed than those without disabilities according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. According to Disability:IN’s research, disability-owned business enterprises (DOBEs), which are businesses that are at least 51 percent owned, managed and controlled by a person with a disability, earn $1.26 billion in annual revenue, pay $358 million in wages, have an economic impact of $32.3 billion, and are 10 times more likely to employ individuals with disabilities than those without.

The Impact of the Private Sector

Both the private sector and policy makers can do more to support individuals with disabilities in their entrepreneurial journey. Procurement and contracting with the private sector represents a significant business opportunity for individuals with disabilities. However, many companies fail to integrate disabled entrepreneurs into their supply chain, with Disability:IN’s recent report shows that only 36 percent of the Fortune 500 report that disability is a part of their supplier diversity initiatives. Private sector leaders and advocates should look to integrate best practices for including individuals with disabilities. For example, Disability:IN has found leading procurement programs include accessibility policies, test procurement systems to ensure accessibility, and have an accessibility policy statement.

Private sector companies can also be proactive in creating an inclusive and welcoming workplace for individuals with disabilities. Disability:IN’s recent report, The Disability Inclusion Imperative, found companies leading on disability inclusion realized 1.6 times more revenue, 2.6 times more net income, and 2 times more economic profit than their peers. To realize these gains, companies should seek to implement proven business diversity initiatives that increase access, raise awareness, and educate workers about disability inclusion such as curating leadership and working groups and benchmarking their disability inclusion program to proven tools that measure and improve disability inclusion.

The Impact of the Public Sector

From the public sector perspective, too little is known about disabled entrepreneurs’ participation in government programs and the private sector workforce and they lack a champion in the federal government. For example, a 2023 Reimagine Main Street survey found disabled small business owners strongly believe the playing field is not level when competing for contracts. That’s why Disability:IN has endorsed the Supporting Disabled Entrepreneurs Act introduced by Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Mike Braun (R-IN). This legislation would establish a Coordinator for Disabled Small Business Concerns at the Small Business Administration and collect and publish voluntary demographic data from program applicants on disability status. Disability:IN has also supported the inclusion of individuals with disabilities around the SEC’s rulemakings on board and workforce disclosures for publicly traded companies. Designating a champion for individuals with disabilities in entrepreneurship programs and shining a light on their inclusion in programs and the workforce is critical to ensuring equal opportunity and access.

While notable progress has been made to include individuals with disabilities in the economy, more can be done. Private sector companies should integrate best practices for including individuals with disabilities in their procurement and workforce programs and policymakers need to create champions for disabled entrepreneurs and shed light on their participation in federal programs.

Jill Houghton is President & Chief Executive Officer of Disability:IN, the leading nonprofit resource for advancing business disability inclusion and accessibility worldwide.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *