One in five adults in the U.S.—that’s 55 million
Americans—have at least one disability that impacts major life activities. And
each passing year increases our individual odds of joining this
cohort. Two in five adults have at least once disability by the time they reach
age 65. And public health experts say that COVID-19 is expanding this number,
especially for those experiencing mental health challenges.
We’ve come far, but the road ahead is long
There’s a lot of good to celebrate since the ADA was passed
in 1990. The past three decades have seen expansion in access for people with
disabilities as well as advancement in education on the topic. This has led to
heightened awareness and deeper understanding of the wide-ranging spectrum of
different abilities and the importance of disability inclusion.
There’s also been progress and change in how we think and
talk about people with disabilities, particularly when it comes to those both
with visible and not-so-apparent disabilities in the workplace. But for all the
forward momentum, there is still much work to be done.
The Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) has been
researching the topic of disability inclusion in the workplace for several
years, publishing two major reports and many additional resources.
Our research has shown time and again that employers that
hire people with disabilities make themselves more attractive to talent overall
because they are truly inclusive workplaces. These organizations are also better able
to reach untapped, valuable talent pools and establish inroads into new markets.
Disability inclusion is clearly a win for all involved.
Purposeful inclusion practices reap rewards
Among the questions we explored in our most recent study, The
Inclusive Talent Pool: Employing People with Disabilities was what
sorts of things employers are doing to provide support to employees with
The most commonly cited practice is ensuring that all
workplace meetings and events are inclusive and accessible. A closer look at
the data found that high-performance organizations are 4x more likely to
be mindful of the importance of this and to attend to it than their
But other practices such as creating a dedicated hiring
program to attract candidates with disabilities or providing mentoring and
development to help employees with disabilities advance their careers are still
rare things in most organizations. So too is purposefully redesigning or
customizing jobs so that they can be done remotely to open employment
opportunities to those with disabilities—although the COVID-19 pandemic has had
The undeniable power of disability inclusion at the top
of the organization
One factor that our research found has positive impact on the overall engagement of the workforce is the presence of people with disabilities
in visible senior roles.
This is something that Microsoft has known for a very long
time. Microsoft’s profile of Chuck Edward, who leads Human Resources for
Microsoft Cloud, AI, Corporate Strategy and Core Services Engineering and
Operations, titled “A
High-profile Leader Reveals his Disability to Help Others Have a More Empowered
Voice” is a testament to Microsoft’s culture and commitment to disability
We can think of no better way to observe the anniversary of the ADA
than by sharing this excerpt of Chuck’s story about revealing his disability to his colleagues:
As a human resources exec, Chuck
Edward has long championed the voices of others and encouraged their stories.
He has traveled globally, from India to Romania, with thoughtful advice for
employees and job candidates to be vulnerable, open-minded, and authentic. He’s
a well-known, compassionate mentor who enjoys coaching people and shaping an
inclusive culture that gives everyone “permission to be real.”
But Edward, a Microsoft veteran
of nearly 16 years, has largely muted his own story. While mentoring and
encouraging employees with disabilities to “have a voice” and “leverage their
backgrounds,” the corporate vice president has kept his own disability,
diagnosed eight years ago, mostly hidden.
That’s changing today, with
Edward publicly revealing that he lives with multiple sclerosis (MS), an
unpredictable disease of the central nervous system that affects an estimated 1
million people in the U.S. He is disclosing his disability at the Ability Summit,
an annual event focused on inclusivity and accessible technology for Microsoft
employees and the disability community.
“It’s been a deep, deep
emotional journey,” says Edward. “If my story makes it easier for even one
person to have a more empowered voice for themselves, that’s great. If we all
can get to a place where we feel better about our voices and our imperfections
and who we are, that’s a win.”