New ‘Forum’ seeks to influence disability and business inclusion agenda

UN’s International Day of People with Disabilities highlights the inequalities disabled people still face in the workplace

A new think tank is launching to mark the UN’s International Day of People with Disabilities in hopes of creating an inclusive future.

Called ‘The Forum’, the think tank seeks to increase the participation of business and people with disabilities in the development of economic and social policy nationally in the UK.  

The Business Disability Forum has created the initiative to encourage more businesses, people with disabilities, academics, regulatory bodies, and policy units to debate, challenge and inform the development of effective and evidenced disability-inclusive public policy. 

Diane Lightfoot, CEO, Business Disability Forum, said: “The Forum will draw on the expertise of our Members and Ambassadors to research, debate and present solutions to the economic and social barriers experienced by disabled people in the UK today – whether within the workplace, as consumers, or in society more generally. 

“2020 has been a year like no other. Public policy and guidance have had to be developed at pace, sometimes with limited input from the people and organisations that it will affect the most and sometimes with far-reaching and unintended consequences as a result.

“As we mark the UN’s International Day of People with Disabilities and this year’s theme of ‘Building back better’, we are calling on policymakers to commit to making future policy and legislation disability-inclusive.” 

Although often ignored, invisible disabilities also must be celebrated, says Jonathan Andrews, a Business Disability Forum Ambassador and a solicitor at Reed Smith. He was named in the top 10 of this year’s Shaw Trust Power 100 list for his campaigning to promote more inclusive business practices for other young people with autism.

He said: “When I was studying, I realised that there wasn’t much visibility of neurodivergent people in the area of law. I decided that I couldn’t let that be a barrier and that I should be talking about it if no one else was. Your identity shouldn’t hold you back from what you want to do, and that is why I am passionate about the work of the Business Disability Forum and The Forum. The areas that The Forum want to put on the agenda are an important part of the national conversation.” 

The Forum’s first task will be asking businesses and disabled people their views on current inclusive employment initiatives and schemes, such as Access to Work and Job Centres, as well as what they would like to see in the proposed National Disability Strategy.

The Government is expected to publish the strategy in the Spring. The strategy will cover issues such as economic recovery and employment, assistive technology, accessible products, and services, built environment, access to justice and independent living.  

There are more than one billion people worldwide – around 15% of the population – living with a disability. As workers, people with disabilities can ease talent shortages and add to the organisational diversity that drives better decision-making and innovation. But although the vast majority of companies claim to prioritise diversity, only 4% back those claims up with a measurable effort that is material to shareholder value.

The UN’s International Day of People with Disabilities has been marked globally for over 20 years to draw attention to the benefits to society of including people with disabilities in every aspect of life. Still, companies across the world must begin recognising the contributions of people with disabilities, says Silke Muenster, Chief Diversity Officer at Philip Morris International (PMI).

PMI has become one of the latest global businesses to sign up to The Valuable 500, a global CEO community revolutionising disability inclusion through business leadership and opportunity.

Along with joining the movement, André Calantzopoulos, CEO, has also made three commitments to action in elevating disability inclusion onto PMI’s business agenda:

  • The launch of a Disability Employee Resource Group to better understand different abilities across PMI’s global workforce of 73,500 employees and to build a sense of belonging, as well as increase visibility and allyship across PMI.
  • To make the company’s internal and external information communication technologies more accessible to persons with disabilities.
  • To reduce stigma and misunderstanding associated with mental health and create a workplace where people feel comfortable speaking openly and are encouraged to make mental health a priority.

Silke Muenster said:If you’re serious about inclusion, inclusion is about everyone, it starts within an organisation as leadership decisions shape culture and culture change drives systemic change in business and society.

By joining The Valuable 500, PMI is committing to strengthening its efforts on disability inclusion and ensuring its place as an important area of focus on our business transformation agenda.”
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