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Towards a disability-smart world

Diane Lightfoot looks at cameraOur world has never felt more interconnected. Whilst the Covid-19 pandemic means we may not be able to be together in physical space, we are nonetheless experiencing – together – change that is unprecedented in most of our lifetimes. We are living and working in ways that none of us could have imagined just a few short months ago and, supported by technology, communicating and inter-relating in ways that takes no heed of geography (though time zones remain a challenge!). And while there are many unknowns and many risks, there are also opportunities, I believe, to make a positive and lasting change to the lives of people with disabilities around the world. [A note on terminology: although when writing for a solely UK audience, we use the term “disabled people” to reflect the social model of disability, in this blog and in our report we have generally used the term “people with disabilities” as the most globally accepted and recognised definition.]

Globally, more than a billion people in the world experience a disability. That’s around 15 percent of the world population and a huge talent and consumer pool. However, too often, attitudes towards disability, and barriers to employment, education and health care mean that many disabled people are not able to fulfil their full potential.

The good news is we are already seeing an increased focus on disability inclusion at a global level. Around half of Business Disability Forum’s members operate globally, between them employing an estimated eight million people worldwide, and they are increasingly committed to getting it right for people with disabilities wherever they are in the world. When we started our global taskforce in April 2018 we would never have dreamed that, less than two years later, we would be over-subscribed for our first ever Global Disability Conference, which in February 2020 – just before lockdown! – saw more than 150 business leaders in attendance.

When we launched the global taskforce, we heard loud and clear from our Partners that they wanted an action-orientated forum to share best practice, create tools and provide support to businesses wanting to drive change in this area. We began with the creation of the Global Business Disability Framework as a self-assessment tool and maturity model to help organisations identify priorities and areas for focus. But we wanted to do more! So, thanks to the support of our Partner Royal Dutch Shell, over the past six months we have been carrying out a major piece of research to explore the practical challenges in ensuring a consistent approach to disability inclusion within organisations that have operations in at least two, and often many more, countries.

More than 120 D&I and disability leads contributed to both quantitative and qualitative research which drilled down into the challenges around culture, adjustments, senior leadership and much more. The resulting report Towards a Disability Smart World: Developing a Global Disability Inclusion Strategy launches today and it’s clear that organisations in this space are making a difference. A majority of participants who had developed a global disability strategy, reflected positively that their organisation had progressed ‘a long way since starting the strategy’ and were ‘successfully achieving improvements for disabled colleagues and customers on a global scale’. In the context that most of said their organisations had been working on global inclusion strategies for just a few years, we hope this encourages others to take action.

We are incredibly grateful to our Partner Royal Dutch Shell for sponsoring this research and for the support they have given to our team in developing this work.

We hope you enjoy the report and would love to hear what you think of it – so please do get in touch and let us know – and we hope it inspires you to join us in working towards a disability-smart world.


Diane Lightfoot, CEO, Business Disability Forum


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