The pandemic has helped create an environment that benefits those with disabilities in many ways, including by encouraging flexible working, said panellists at the Dial Summit on Wednesday.
They also agreed that policies made to help include those with disabilities actually end up helping all employees.
The Dial Global Virtual Summit, held on 22 and 23 September, is a gathering of global leaders who discuss how they are prioritising actions over words across facets of diversity.
They will be talking about tangible strategies and steps that can be taken to make real, measurable progress in creating equality in workplaces.
Speaking at a session titled "How Workplaces can focus on ability, not disability," Vivian Ayuso-Sanchez, senior manager for diversity networks and programmes at Walgreens (WBA), said: “This pandemic helped create an environment that benefited many of us, especially those with disabilities. This includes flexibility of how work is done and where and when we do it.”
“There is now more information and more tools that recognise mental health concerns as well — all this has emanated out of the pandemic," she added.
She said businesses have made huge strides in the past few years, “we have become so much better at providing close captioning and ASL translators — something we weren’t focused on before.
"Digital accessibility is getting a lot of interest and engagement and companies are working on website and app accessibility initiatives for employees with disabilities.”
She said leadership is now talking about this more than ever, whether its fireside chats or department meetings.
The Valuable 500, a community of 500 business leaders committed to putting disability on their agenda, was formed in 2019, and CEOs are publicly committing to including those with disabilities.
They are using tools such as the disability quality index to benchmark their performance and identify areas for improvement. "This is critical as we work with intentionality to improve in this space," said Ayuso-Sanchez.
LaMondre Pough, CEO of Billion Strong, echoed some of her thoughts: “I would agree that with COVID literally pushing pause on the entire world, it caused us to re-evaluate how we do business and say: 'Wait a minute what are the things that are essential for us to get things done?'"
He said businesses who may have turned down requests for certain accommodations for employees, such as remote working, realised those were things they had to do to survive when COVID hit, “and that’s opened to door with many who have disabilities.”
Providing solutions to include those with disabilities "is an 'everyone wins' model. We might be targeting a particular group but we all benefit,” said Lorcan Brennan, policies oversight lead for Accenture (ACN) global accent on enablement lead for Ireland.
Meanwhile Paulette Cohen, head of diversity & Inclusion for UK, Europe and Middle East at Barclays (BARC.L) said there is a huge business case to hire those with disabilities.
It's not just their professional skill but the additional talents they bring in, like exceptional resilience, adaptability, flexibility and collaboration, to name a few.