Skip to main content

Press releases

Press release: New research reveals strategies for global disability inclusion

7 July 2020

People sharing ideas

The study, called ‘Towards a Disability-Smart World: Developing a global disability inclusion strategy’, was conducted by Business Disability Forum in partnership with energy company Royal Dutch Shell. It draws on evidence and case studies from the experience of organisations including Shell, Unilever, HSBC, Accenture and Microsoft.

The findings

The report shows that:

  • More than 90 per cent of respondents state that ‘disability inclusion is the right thing to do’ at a global level.
  • More than 80 per cent state that it allows them to access a wider pool of talent, drives employee motivation, has an impact on sales and opportunities and supports business objectives.

Yet, whilst more than 80 per cent of respondents say that their organisation had made one or more commitment to disability inclusion at a central level, only about 20 per cent of respondents had a global strategy for disability inclusion in place and resourced.

The study identifies several common barriers to creating a global strategy for disability inclusion. These include:

  • Cultural differences in the way disability is understood.
  • Levels of engagement with disability and accessibility in some countries.
  • Varying legal requirements between countries.
  • Resources and systematic data collection.
  • Gaining the commitment of local champions and managers.

For organisations which have worked to overcome these challenges the benefits are clear, with over 80 per cent reporting improvements for disabled colleagues and customers on a global scale. Over 90 per cent reported senior level buy-in at an early stage to be key in gaining engagement, traction, and stronger accountability at a local level.

Diane Lightfoot, CEO, Business Disability Forum, said:

“As recent times have demonstrated, we are living in a global world and there is more need than ever before for businesses to respond to disability inclusion at a

corporate-wide level. This study shows that businesses are recognising that need, but often face common barriers when responding to it.

“Based on the experiences of 120 leading global brands, we want to offer organisations practical advice on how they can overcome those challenges and achieve positive change for their workforce and customers alike.”

Lyn Lee, Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, Shell, said:

“While most leaders of organisations will agree that disability inclusion is the right thing to do, there are challenges and barriers which many need to address. We hope this research into best practices will create impact collectively through collaboration and partnership, and benefit companies as they develop global strategies to do more for people with disabilities.”


The study shows that workplace adjustments, along with recruitment and onboarding, are the areas where businesses have made the most progress in disability inclusion. These were followed by buildings and built environments; digital technology; and retention and development of employees. Communication and marketing; customer or client experience; and procurement and supply chain, were the areas where there is the least evidence of progression.

Fundamental lessons

The study draws on feedback and case studies from respondents to highlight some fundamental lessons for organisations looking to develop their own global disability inclusion strategy and to provide a practical roadmap to others starting out:

  • Don’t underestimate the complexity of a global disability inclusion strategy and how long it might take. Focus on intentions, rather than perfection.
  • Don’t be overwhelmed. Start small, by focusing on one or two activities and locations. Gather evidence and then scale up.
  • Engage business leads and people with disabilities at regional and local levels to gather insights and inform global strategy. Working collaboratively will empower colleagues to interpret and execute global commitments to disability in ways that are culturally and legally appropriate for their country.
  • Identify a senior global disability inclusion champion, early on, to drive forward the strategy.
  • Disability impacts on every area of the organisation. Bring together colleagues with key responsibility for strategic functions across HR, recruitment, the built environment and technology.

Diane Lightfoot said:

“Disabled people are expected to be more disadvantaged by the impact of Covid-19 than non-disabled people; particularly in developing countries. This is an opportunity for global business to make a positive difference. Introducing a corporate-wide policy on disability inclusion is a sensible place to start and the roadmap included in this report is designed to help businesses get on the right track.”

The study, ‘Towards a Disability-Smart World: Developing a global disability inclusion strategy’, and the accompanying roadmap, can be downloaded on Business Disability Forum’s Knowledge Hub.

Loading, Please Wait