Employers who want to know how their company’s disability inclusion and accessibility policies and practices stack up against those of other U.S. businesses will have a new tool to use for benchmarking in 2013.
The U.S. Business Leadership Network (USBLN) and the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) announced plans on Dec. 19, 2012, to establish the “Disability Equality Index,” a national disability benchmarking tool.
Although the tool is still being developed and an exact 2013 release date has not yet been set, the USBLN and the AAPD said the forthcoming index will provide employers with a transparent, objective roadmap for improving opportunities for people with disabilities.
“Employers are seeking ways to enhance their disability inclusion efforts and we believe the index will help them do this,” wrote Jill Houghton, USBLN executive director, in an email to SHRM Online. Initial feedback “has been very positive,” she added. “Employers are stepping forward and asking us how they can become involved in the project.”
The index is expected to provide a way for companies to benchmark progress and identify avenues for improvement. It will help keep practitioners informed of best and emerging disability employment practices and point them toward business peers that are already high performers, Houghton noted.
That’s particularly important, because according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, Americans with disabilities experience higher unemployment and underemployment than any group in the U.S., she added.
Modeled After HRC Corporate Equality Index
The new Disability Equality Index will use the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Foundation model as “a launching point for development,” explained Mark Perriello, president and CEO of AAPD, in an email to SHRM Online. The HRC produces the Corporate Equality Index (CEI), a tool used to measure employers on a scale of 1 to 100 in terms of their efforts to create a workplace inclusive for LGBT workers.
“It will be similar in nature to the HRC model in that it will be an objective national benchmarking tool for employers,” Perriello wrote. “The index will be designed to highlight best and promising practices and provide employers with resources to improve their disability employment [and] inclusion efforts.”
He added that it will measure organizations across a range of criteria, including recruiting and retention programs, professional development, and accessible information and communications technology.
Promoting the Disability Benchmarking Tool
The USBLN and the AAPD plan to work with employers and other stakeholders—including corporate executives, practitioners, subject matter experts, academics, and community advocates—to develop the index. It will be promoted on websites, in print and at special events around the country, Perriello explained.
Representatives from both groups said they expect to invite Fortune 1000 companies to take part. Participating companies will be scored against a set of criteria and participation will be voluntary.
The USBLN and the AAPD plan to disseminate findings and recognize top-performing companies in a variety of ways. A printed report will be published annually and results will be publicized in partnership with public and private job placement programs, college and university career centers, leading disability nonprofits, and other venues, Perriello added.
“The goal is to ensure that the recognition meaningfully builds a company reputation for diversity and inclusion with potential employees, investors, and customers, including customers with disabilities,” Perriello wrote.
Reaction to New Index
Carol Glazer, president of the National Organization on Disability (NOD) in New York, said that although her group is not working with the USBLN and the AAPD on the new index, she’s “thrilled its happening.”
“Frankly, I think that it signals something of a new era for corporate America, recognizing that disability is an important diversity segment,” Glazer told SHRM Online.
“We see more and more companies that are hiring people with disabilities and recognizing the kind of contribution they can make in the workforce,” Glazer added.
NOD works with Fortune 500 companies to increase the number of people with disabilities in their workforce. Glazer said while there’s been a trend in corporate America with more companies wanting to hire more people with disabilities, often, “they just don’t know exactly how [to do so].”
Glazer said she thinks the index “will make a difference in setting standards for companies. To the extent that companies buy into that, it’s going to be another real shot in the arm for this diversity segment.”
Roadblocks to Disability Hiring
Glazer said companies that want to tap into the disability market should review company practices and consider adopting a holistic approach to disability recruiting and hiring, as companies like Walgreens and Lowe’s have, notably in their distribution centers.
Companies should ensure their corporate website, career pages and recruiting materials discuss disability as a diversity group, and ensure that recruiters have relationships with disability organizations to source candidates. They also should consider setting hiring targets for persons with disabilities, just as they do for other diversity groups.
Glazer noted a number of roadblocks to disability hiring revealed in the Kessler Foundation/NOD 2010 Survey of Employment of Americans with Disabilities, which was released in October 2010. The survey, conducted by Harris Interactive, included responses from 411 human resource managers and senior executives at companies with more than 50 employees.
Only a third of companies (34 percent) reported that they track the number of people with disabilities in their workforce.
The survey also found disability policies and programs less common than diversity policies and programs. Three in 10 respondents (29 percent) reported having a disability policy or program, with 25 percent having a policy and only 12 percent having a disability program. Just 8 percent of companies have both, Glazer noted.
Meanwhile, fewer than half (40 percent) reported using nonprofit or community-based service provider agencies to recruit people with disabilities and only 3 percent reported having a dedicated disability recruiter.
“You can set up an employee resource group, you can train your managers, you can look at your policies, you can expand your relationships with sourcing agencies—any one of these things will help a little bit,” Glazer said. Organizations “have to do all of it in order to make a big jump in the numbers in their workforce,” she added.
“That’s where you start getting the synergy and the whole being bigger than the sum of the parts,” Glazer said.
Pamela Babcock is a freelance writer based in the New York City area.
Resources Help Employers Increase Disability Employment, SHRM Online Diversity, October 2012
People with Disabilities Are Plentiful—and Underemployed, SHRM Online Diversity, August 2012
Opening Doors, HR Magazine, June 2012
Experts: Adjust Practices to Facilitate Disability Employment, SHRM Online Diversity, May 2012
SHRM Disability Employment Special Resource Page
SHRM Online Diversity page
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