As the CEO of Ruh Global Communications, I am honored to be able to work with corporate brands all over the world on strategies to fully include persons with disabilities as colleagues, employees, and clients by assuring their services and products are accessible. Since early 2000, we also have also been blessed to be able to leverage social media and other marketing channels in an effort to tell the stories of these brands to consumers who care about social impact and inclusion.
It has been interesting to watch the global landscape change as these conversations have taken place over the years. While many U.S. corporations have been making efforts to include persons with disabilities fully—as employees, clients, and stakeholders— the bottom line is that litigation in a lot of these circumstances has helped and hindered these efforts. While, the U.S. is one of the most accessible countries in the world, it still has a lot of work to do with the inclusion of persons with disabilities in its workforce and customer base.
In late 2014, I set out to write a book that would discuss this very topic, “Uncovering Hidden Human Capital: How Leading Corporations Leverage Multiple Abilities in Their Workforce” Published by G3ict in 2016.
At that time, I asked approximately ten U.S. based multi-national brands to be part of the best practice sections of the book. I was shocked by how many of these corporations came back and said, ‘Debra, we would love to be featured in the book, but our legal team has said no.”
They were nervous that being featured in my book as demonstrating a best practice may have made them a target for additional lawsuits.
This inspired me to write a blog post back in 2012 about Walt Disney Parks & Resorts called ‘No Good Deed Goes Unpunished’
It explored the class action lawsuit filed in 2011 against Walt Disney Parks & Resorts over something similar. The Americans with Disability Act (ADA) lawsuit in this case both confused and surprised me.
Why the surprise? Well, earlier that year The American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) awarded Disney with a 2011 Access Award, one of the highest honors a brand can get from the community of persons with disabilities in the U.S.
I am not here to debate the merits of the case, but you have to admit that it doesn’t make much sense for Disney to win this award and then immediately get sued for violating the ADA. Are they horrible, wonderful, or maybe just trying their best?
I understand there are many moving parts that must exist when dealing with disability inclusion and accessibility. However, the litigious approach can—and almost always does—send the wrong message to brands.
On the other hand, when I asked major multi-national brands in the U.S. in 2014 if they were willing to be included in my book, they quickly said, “Sorry, Debra we have not done enough.”
Again, I was confused because I knew that many of these U.S. brands have been working on disability inclusion and accessibility for several years. Are they perfect? NO! Are they trying? Absolutely. Is it enough? Maybe.
For the past year or so, we have used various communication channels to encourage our community of persons with disabilities to reward brands that are doing their best and help us to begin ‘voting with our wallets.’ As an active participant on social media, I have been able to then turn around and talk about brands that are seeking to include us (and gain our support) all over the world.
Debra Ruh Quote
For example, a well known fashion brand, Tommy Hilfiger, supports our community by creating an Adaptive Clothing line for children with disabilities. Based upon the initial success of this line— Hilfiger now wants to expand his effort to adults and help the rest of the fashion industry understand that it’s a win for everyone to do so. Hilfiger also offers clothes at all price points—which means it’s accessible to everyone. I have become a loyal Tommy Hilfiger customer and love that they have clothes for all members of my family and friends— including those with disabilities. I am always on the lookout for other brands that are supporting my community so that I can show my support for them in return—and you should be, too!
In early 2016, I was still hard at work on my book. To my surprise, several of the U.S. brands that had declined in late 2014 came back and asked if they could now be included. What had changed? The central theme to their answers was simply that inclusion of persons with disabilities was now a bigger part of their efforts.
They now understand that operating in the U.S. means facing lawsuits. So, instead of focusing on being perfect, they decided that they wanted to share their stories of inclusion and accessibility with the community of persons with disabilities. Telling the stories of the brands that are working towards full inclusion can hopefully educate the entire ecosystem about how greatly the benefits of inclusion outweigh its complexities.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 15% of the world’s population has a disability. While the National Organization on Disabilities (NOD) state that 54 million people in the U.S. identify as having a disability under the definition provided by the ADA.
While those alone are pretty big numbers, other people—those not impacted by disabilities—also care about a company’s inclusion efforts. The millennial generation has clearly stated in various studies that they are willing to pay more money to do business with brands that have a positive social impact.
It is hard to ignore that size audience and brands should take notice of the impact their efforts can have on their bottom line. However, our community needs to know which brands are trying making those efforts so that we can help to boost their Return on Investment (ROI). And it is critical for everyone to understand that this is NOT simply about it being ‘The Right Thing to Do’. After all, it is naïve to think that corporations should not want to make money through their inclusive efforts. That’s what they are in business, to make money.
Instead, making these much needed changes is more about changing the world in order to assure that we all have a place to contribute and work— and that we—as a community—know which brands are trying. If these brands do not make money by creating products and services that include our community, then we all fail.
Their efforts will lead to better employment outcomes and options for the community of persons with disabilities around the world. Full inclusion of a diverse workforce that includes individuals with disabilities should an important part of every brand’s identity.
Many of the brands already involved in the efforts are multi-national corporations that are headquartered in the United States or ones that have a national presence here. I have also noticed many U.S. brands that are only in national conversations, but not in global discussions, when it comes to their efforts with disability inclusion and accessibility.
It is critical for US based corporations to join the global conversations about best practices, case studies, risks, and innovations. Why? Because many of these US based corporations have employees and customers living outside the US.
Corporate brands need a place that is safe to learn from other brands and share their successes, fears, and ideas. These brands are multi-national so having a global network to ask questions about disability employment and inclusion in other countries is an invaluable resource.
If you are a corporation that wants to join the global B2B conversation, please consider joining the United National ILO Global Business Disability Network (GBDN) and contacting us at Ruh Global Communications.
The world needs all stakeholders’ voices to be heard in these global conversations. Brands will also find their ROI grown when the community of persons with disabilities and the people that care about this community to learn about their efforts.
Thanks to the global brands already involved for their leadership and efforts to include the community of persons with disabilities.
To learn more about Ruh Global Communications, please visit our website: www.RuhGlobal.com
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