Diversity and inclusion initiatives appear to largely ignore disabled workers, according to a recent report by the World Economic Forum.

It’s a troubling assertation, given that approximately 15 per cent of the population — or 1 in 7 people — live with some form of disability. And while a large portion of this group can work, it remains an underemployed segment.

In the European Union, about 60 per cent of disabled people are employed, compared to 82 per cent of the general population, the World Economic Forum says.

In the U.S., the stat is 37 per cent compared to 77 per cent, and an estimated 645,000 Canadians who are living with disabilities are unable to find work, despite being qualified to do so.

Workers with disabilities tend to earn less than their non-disabled colleagues. There are a variety of reasons for this, but one can be attributed to employer reluctance to create accommodating spaces. This can prevent disabled employees from taking part in career-building workshops, training sessions, and travel opportunities.

Valuable 500

Last January, a campaign called “The Valuable 500” was launched at the World Economic Forum assembly in Davos, Switzerland, aimed at increasing the number of disabled people in the workforce. Backed by the International Labour Organization and a consortium of businesses, the initiative is asking the CEOs of 500 companies to add disability inclusion to their agendas.

So far, more than 250 companies have signed on.

“It’s no longer good enough for companies to say ‘disability doesn’t fit with our brand’ or ‘it’s a good idea to explore next year’,” Valuable founder Caroline Casey said in a statement.

“Businesses cannot be truly inclusive if disability is continuingly ignored on leadership agendas.”

According to Valuable, the estimated one billion people living with a disability worldwide hold an annual disposable income of $8 trillion, a staggering figure that businesses ignore at their own peril.

That — combined with the fact that 80 per cent of disabilities are acquired later in life — suggests disability prevalence is on the rise and signals an urgent need to create accommodating professional spaces.

“Organizations seeking a competitive edge in their industry should consider engaging people living with disabilities,” writes Silvia Bonaccio, professor of organizational behaviour and human resources management at the University of Ottawa.

“Businesses or workplaces that hire inclusively are more profitable. The bottom line is that hiring people with disabilities is good for business.”

Read more about The Valuble 500 here.