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Six ways to advance disability inclusion in your organization

From inclusive recruitment tools to accessible websites, learn how to better harness – and retain – the talents of people with disabilities.

Today, more than one billion people around the world are living with a disability. Eighty percent of people with a disability acquire it between the ages of 18 and 64 — their prime working years.

But in most corporate boardrooms, disability inclusion hasn’t risen to the top of the C-suite agenda. In a recent report in collaboration with the organization Valuable, which surveyed 130 C-suite executives in 17 countries, 56% of respondents indicated that the topic of disability rarely or never comes up on their leadership agenda.

At EY, we have a long history of creating an inclusive culture that welcomes everyone, including those working with disabilities. It all began with EY co-founder, Arthur Young. Arthur was trained as a lawyer, but after losing much of his eyesight and becoming deaf, he could no longer practice courtroom law.

Early in the 20th century, he turned to finance and the new field of accounting. His "disability" drove him to innovation and entrepreneurship, both of which played pivotal roles in the development of the EY organization.

As with gender, LGBT+ and other diversity dimensions, improving disability inclusion isn’t only the right thing to do — it has business-building value as well. “We know that our organization is only as robust and sustainable as our ability to include and harness the unique talents of all of our people,” says Karyn Twaronite, EY Global Vice Chair – Diversity & Inclusiveness. “Research shows that diverse perspectives drive better business outcomes, and that when people feel a sense of belonging at work, they are healthier and more engaged.”

At EY, we understand the value that people with disabilities bring to our teams, which is why in 2019, EY joined The Valuable 500, a global group of the world’s most influential businesses that are igniting systemic change by unlocking the business, social and economic value of people living with disabilities globally.

Research shows that diverse perspectives drive better business outcomes, and that when people feel a sense of belonging at work, they are healthier and more engaged.

Here are six steps you can consider for improving disability inclusion in your organization:

1.  Develop the business case and secure sponsorship

Tie your business case for disability inclusion to your overall business objectives. High-performing teams are a key driver of success. When diverse teams contribute a variety of perspectives, they drive innovation. When the individual members feel included, they collaborate better and engage more fully, boosting productivity.

That’s why EY member firms recruit from the widest possible talent pool, including people with disabilities. Once EY team members are on board, the organization strives to support them to reach their full potential.

Sponsorship from key stakeholders is also crucial to boosting disability inclusion and accelerating progress. Without commitment and visibility at the senior leadership level, change will likely be slow and piecemeal.

As Trent Henry, EY Global Vice Chair for Talent says, “What does leadership in the Transformative Age look like? It’s building a culture where all people can experience a sense of belonging.”

2.  Connect with your disabilities community

Don’t make assumptions or generalize. Ask people with disabilities what works well for them and what you could be doing differently. 

Consider creating an employee resource group (ERG) for individuals who are supportive advocates for their colleagues with disabilities. These programs help to create safe and inclusive environments and serve as powerful education platforms. ERGs offer a tangible reminder that everyone, including people with disabilities, can perform better when they can be themselves at work.

3.  Make sure your people are educated about disability inclusion practices

Enable everyone in your organization to have a clear understanding of disability, their responsibilities and what assistance is available. To boost your employee’s awareness, consider:

  • Recruiting and educating allies
  • Including disability inclusion case studies in existing people training (e.g. unconscious bias training, manager training and recruitment training)
  • Using role models and storytelling to raise awareness of different experiences of disability, including non-visible disabilities
  • Structuring trainings for teams who will be working with people who are, for example, neurodiverse: those who experience neurological differences that may include dyslexia, autism and others
  • Offering webinars, podcasts or events to educate on specific conditions, such as strokes or mental health
  • Focusing communications around the UN’s International Day of People with Disabilities and other key dates
What does leadership in the transformative age look like? It’s building a culture where all people can experience a sense of belonging.

4.  Make accessible technology a key consideration

At EY, we’ve set up a one-stop shop for IT accessibility with a single point of contact across the globe. Local teams then implement the services. This approach offers EY people easy access and has helped us to learn about the specific needs of people with disabilities by analyzing the frequency and types of requests we receive.

When you develop new services and websites, build accessibility into the initial design process, and be sure to involve employees with disabilities in the design and testing phase. It’s much easier to design accessibility into a project from the beginning, rather than to try and retroactively “fix” it.

5.  Create a level playing field for applicants with disabilities

According to the UN, the official unemployment rate in developed countries for persons of working age with disabilities is at least twice that for those who have no disability. “We need to ask ourselves: are we doing enough to create a level playing field for applicants with disabilities?”, says Adrian Gilchrist, Executive Director, People Advisory Services.

Consider whether your organization is unintentionally creating barriers for some candidates in the following areas:

  • Advertising — are your job postings inclusive? Do they show that the organization welcomes people with disabilities? Or does the wording discourage certain people from applying?
  • Applications — is the technology you use for candidates accessible to people with different requirements?
  • Interviews and assessments — do you ask if candidates have any accessibility requirements? Are the activities you plan suitable for people with different abilities? Does the person being interviewed need more information beforehand to feel comfortable?
  • Commitment to diversity — do your recruiters, hiring managers and external agencies take consistent action to create a diverse and inclusive workplace? Are they fully versed in diversity and inclusion practices?
  • Onboarding — do you have a process in place to implement any required adjustments? Is it possible to have adjustments in place from day one? Do you have a disability network that people can connect with during the onboarding process?
We need to ask ourselves: are we doing enough to create a level playing field for applicants with disabilities?

6.  Consider how you communicate

Small changes can address many of the roadblocks that people with disabilities experience in standard communication methods. Some items to consider:

  • Make your documents available in different formats, such as Braille, and provide different fonts or audio versions as needed. Be clear about how people can request these alternate formats.
  • Use the built-in Microsoft Office accessibility checker on all documents.
  • Include captions on all videos.
  • Provide a transcript with all audio content.
  • Provide live captioning on webinars and virtual meetings.
  • Provide sign language interpreters when needed.
  • Offer alternative ways for people to contact you.
  • When hosting events, either live or virtually, ask people if they have any accessibility requirements.

As with technology, when developing any documents or communications, consider accessibility from the start.

When you take these steps to improve disability inclusion, you spark organization-wide change. An active commitment to inclusion fosters a culture of belonging and more fully harnesses the diverse talents and perspectives of your entire workforce. Taken together, these are the keys to building a stronger business and realizing your organization’s purpose.


While global companies and diversity and inclusiveness (D&I) practitioners have made real progress toward more diverse workplaces, there is still work to do to make disability inclusion rise to the top of the C-suite agenda. These six ideas provide a foundation for advancing disability inclusion across a global company.