Disability Works

Signaling Support For Workers With Disabilities That Goes Beyond Mere Words

In 2020, corporations donated well over $16 billion in philanthropic contributions. By making charity part of strategic goals to demonstrate value for employees with disabilities, companies can put money behind their support for workers with life-long or emerging disabilities.

Around one in five Americans have a disability, and nearly a third of the workforce includes those with disabilities. Despite these high numbers, many employees with disabilities feel overlooked, undervalued, and unseen. For businesses that are committed to inclusion, directing charitable giving toward organizations that support people with disabilities is not only the right thing to do; it also has a real economic impact via retaining and recruiting workers with disabilities.

Charitable giving improves corporate loyalty for workers with disabilities
Over ninety percent of companies surveyed by the Chief Executives for Corporate Purpose offered gift-matching opportunities for their workers. By allowing employees to direct some percentage of company philanthropy, organizations can give workers with disabilities input and freedom to support causes they are passionate about and leverage corporate giving in personally meaningful ways.

Companies that contribute to social causes benefit from increased employee morale, according to the Harvard Business Review. The same research found that a majority of corporate giving reflects the “personal beliefs and values of executives or employees.” By strategically leveraging corporate philanthropy, businesses can bring their goals for employee inclusion into alignment with their commitment to social good.

A 2021 Nature study laid out the moral, legal, and economic perspectives on hiring employees with disabilities, with clear results that revealed the advantages of doing so. Considering that people with disabilities bring a higher motivation to work, friendliness to customers, creativity, and superior problem-solving skills, it makes smart business sense to take steps that help workers know they are valued. Funding non-profits that support people with disabilities improves company loyalty among employees who may have personally benefitted from these organizations, or who can personally attest to the value of these charities.

Charitable giving increases corporate visibility for workers with disabilities
Gerard Quinn, the UN Special Rapporteur for Persons with Disabilities, observed at the Human Rights Council’s 46th session that “The COVID-19 pandemic has painfully shown that ... persons with disabilities are treated as if they are invisible ... invisibility can create inequality, and unequal treatment can itself lead to, or reinforce, invisibility.”

Also on the global stage, in 2015 BP became the first-ever corporate partner of the US Olympic Committee to sponsor more Paralympians than Olympians. Their financial support contributed to the training and travel costs of these athletes, underscoring the company’s “commitment to [the athletes’] success.” By supporting highly visible people with disabilities, BP was also signaling their support to the success of their own employees with disabilities, visible or not.

When the Ford Foundation announced in 2016 a grand initiative addressing inequalities, it was quickly realized that while seeing many worthy causes, they had completely overlooked workers with disabilities. No one serving on leadership in the Foundation had a visible disability. There was no strategy to hire workers with disabilities. Their company headquarters were not even ADA-compliant. Respectably, when called out, the Ford Foundation owned their errors and took steps to correct the mistake. In particular, they partnered with groups like RespectAbility to incorporate the feedback they had received, and started a remodeling of their headquarters.

As the Ford Foundation demonstrated on a national stage their commitment to disability inclusion in their philanthropic mission and a willingness to learn, apologize, and grow, they are inspiring and challenging other organizations to do the same. Sixteen other foundations joined with Ford to create the President’s Council on Disability Inclusion in Philanthropy. What began as a philanthropic mission to address inequality has since grown into a broader valuation of the contributions of workers with disabilities. Because of the increased visibility, the Ford Foundation and other non-profits have hired more workers with disabilities.

Charitable giving connects workers with disabilities to future careers
By choosing to invest philanthropically in organizations that provide training and career development to students and workers with disabilities, businesses can create national relationships that serve as a pipeline. This benefits both the students, whose awareness of the company was increased through corporate sponsorship of the educational program, and also the business itself.

Lime Connect is another non-profit that focuses on connecting high-achieving students with disabilities to corporate partners. These businesses, such as Google, JPMorganChase, and Microsoft, are committed to providing funding to Lime Connect. In return, they are able to access a talent pool of proven achievers, along with the resources from Lime Connect to guide these businesses in helping their new employees reach their highest potential. This directly addresses the all too common stigma associated with disability in the workplace, demonstrating the reality that there are numerous benefits to employing workers with disabilities. On the same day the Starbucks Foundation donated $50,000 to the National Association of the Deaf, the business also opened their second “Signing Store,” a location specifically dedicated to serving the Deaf and hard of hearing communities. All of the baristas are fluent in ASL, and many also identify as Deaf. Starbucks had followed through on a commitment by designing an inclusive store layout and hiring Deaf employees, and then backed up those promises with a visible donation.

As with every aspect of workplace culture, philanthropy is another arena where company values of inclusion can be seen and practiced. By choosing to funnel corporate charitable dollars toward non-profits supporting people with disabilities, companies can strengthen employee loyalty, increase visibility for workers with disabilities, and create career networks allowing them to build relationships, recruit, and retain an increasing and important segment of the workforce.