Written: Jan. 29, 15:12 EST
Updated: Jan 30: 8:29 EST

In Jaunary 2019, “The Valuable 500” campaign 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 asks the CEOs of 500 companies to add disability inclusion to their agendas.

Around this time last year, 250 companies had signed on. Today, the number sits at 415, with 54 additional companies signing on this week. Some of the newest additions include MicronSodexoDTE Energy, and Prada.

That news comes on the heels of the announcement of a major investment from The Nippon Foundation, Japan’s biggest private foundation. In a Friday press release, The Valuable 500 announced the foundation’s plans to invest $5 million into the organization. It’s the largest single investment into disability business inclusion, Valuable 500 says, and the funds will be used to launch Phase 2 of its global campaign, creating a community of CEOs committed to creating disability inclusion.

As it stands, the combined revenue of The Valuable 500’s current members is $5.4 trillion, representing 14.8 million employees in 35 countries. 



“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 2019 statement.

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

The push towards more visibility and inclusion for disabled workers remains an ongoing struggle. While there has been a recent surge of corporate diversity, equity, and inclusions (DEI) statements and efforts, many centre around race and gender and fail to truly incorporate the intersecting identities that represent today’s workforce.

A December analysis of international data by Valuable, for example, outlines the invisibility of disability issues. According to the report, only 3 per cent of media articles discussing diversity reference disability, a statistic that has only risen by 1 per cent over the past five years.

According to the World Economic Forum, 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.


Conversations around disability are incomplete if they fail to acknowledge and combat racial disparites as Mélise Edwards, a neuroscience and behaviour Ph.D. student and founder of M.U.S.E. Mentorship, rightfully points out in this informative Twitter thread:

Here are some more numbers: a 2016 analysis of data from 7,993 individuals aged 21 and older from the 2012 National Health Interview Survey found non-Hispanic Black Americans were more likely to have a severe disability than non-Hispanic whites.

“The study findings highlighted the role of socioeconomic characteristics in reducing disparities in disability between non-Hispanic African Americans and non-Hispanic whites,” the paper reads.

Disability also disproportionately affects Indigenous communities, due in large part to racism in healthcare systems.

In 2017 in Canada, 32 per cent of First Nations people living off reserve, 30 per cent of Métis, and 19 per cent of Inuit had one or more disabilities that limited daily activities, according to the Government of Canada.

Across the entire population, the prevalence of disability in Canada in 2017 was 22 per cent.

About 28 per cent of persons with severe disabilities in the 25 to 64 year age group in Canada were more likely to be living in poverty, compared to 10 per cent of Canadians with no disabilities and 14 per cent of Canadians with milder disabilities.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was updated on January 30 to include the section about disability and race. Thank you Mélise Edwards for raising the point, and for creating such a valuable resource.

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