"He's so cheerful with everyone!" the teacher said when I picked Max up from a school program the other day. Yep, that's my Max, the human form of sunshine, Prozac and all things happy. On the drive home, I once again started wondering what kind of job might someday be a fit for that upbeat attitude of his. He's just 16 and while I have hope that there will be more work possibilities for him by the time he enters the workforce, I'm worried.
Yesterday, I felt heartened as I read about Irish disability activist Caroline Casey and The Valuable 500—a campaign she just launched to get 500 global businesses to commit to putting disability on their board agendas this year, committing to both accountability and action. Stats show that disability is still absent in discussions by execs...and absent in the workforce. In the U.S., 21 percent of people with disabilities have jobs, compared to 68 of people without disabilities, per the Department of Labor.
"The 1 billion people globally who are disabled and can't find work need top leaders to take action—now," said Casey, who is blind.
Microsoft, Unilever and Barclays have come onboard The Valuable 500. Virgin mogul Richard Branson stepped up his commitment with a video. "I see the value in creating a world that caters to the needs of the whole spectrum of humanity," he says. "Disability can no longer be a conversation reserved for charities and health organizations—businesses and business leaders have a vital role to play in transforming the lives of disabled people."
It's great that Richard Branson, one of the most most popular businesspeople of all time, is behind the campaign—people are going to listen up. Yet words and encouragement alone won't cut it. Too often, companies pay lip service to inclusion, and stop at that. In fact, Casey's called b.s. in a series of spot-on mini mockumentaries titled DIVERSish, like this one.
I'd love to see videos that showcase how major companies have included people with disabilities. I'd like to hear execs openly discuss the biases they've had to overcome—and how PWD proved them wrong. In fact, a recent report from Accenture found that companies that embrace best practices for employing and supporting more persons with disabilities in their workforce had revenues that were 28 percent higher, among other benefits. (Props, Microsoft, Bank of America and CVS).
Of course, I'd also like to hear more people with disabilities talk about the work they've found and how it happened. But business execs need to face up to the fact that they have failed PWD—and own how they are going to change that.
Oh, yes, this parent wants more, more, more. I am acutely aware of the roadblocks Max faces in life. I know all too well how hard is to shift mindsets and attitudes. Campaigns like this fuel my dreams for a world with more inclusive, barrier-free businesses for Max and other people with disabilities. I can only hope it's no fantasy.