Accessibility in leadership is a popular term these days. It is used profusely in Executive Coaching and thrown around generously in discussions about Change and Stakeholder Management. The Harvard Business Review explains that the most important aspect to an accessible leader is one who can admit when they have made a mistake. Forbes says it is important to be a leader who “defaults to yes.” The accessible leader is acknowledging and graceful interpersonally, as well as proficient in using technology to reach others. The accessible leader is good at opening doors, inviting diverse opinions, and listening to understand.
I recently read a New York Times article written by Ted Kennedy Jr. that caused me to reflect on all of the above in a profound way. I tend to focus on leaders enhancing their accessibility to their employees and yet without workplace accessibility, it seems like keeping your office door open is not quite enough. Ted Kennedy Jr. spoke about workplace accessibility and how hiring people with disabilities is good for business:
“A recent study has shown, for the first time, that companies that championed people with disabilities actually outperformed others — driving profitability and shareholder returns. Revenues were 28 percent higher, net income 200 percent higher, and profit margins 30 percent higher. Companies that improved internal practices for disability inclusion were also four times more likely to see higher total shareholder returns.”
As someone who lost a leg to cancer at age 12, Kennedy has fought hard alongside family members for equal opportunity for people with disabilities to contribute to society through meaningful work. So many questions started to formulate in my mind around this concept of accessibility and how it looks in light of this article. Why should anyone be limited in workflow and contributions based on challenges with accessibility? What is being done to make our workplaces more accessible so that we invite everyone to the table?
I came across the story of Jordyn Castor in my research. Blind since birth, at 22 she is now one of Apple’s leading engineers. What others call a disability, she sees as heightened awareness as she works under the mantra, “inclusion inspires innovation.” The senior manager for global accessibility policy and initiatives at Apple, Sarah Herrlinger, states that the company is dedicated to making inclusivity features standard, not specialized.
In his article, Kennedy credits companies like Bank of America, Microsoft, and CVS for pioneering this new landscape for organizations. Apple made the first touch screen device that was accessible to the blind via VoiceOver. This technology is something all users access every day, but for the blind community, it was revolutionary. In this Fast Company article, Eve Andersson, head of Google’s Accessibility efforts states, “The accessibility problems of today are the mainstream breakthroughs of tomorrow.” She is a firm believer that accessibility is a basic human right and if it is valued as such, it benefits everyone.
There are many projects underway such as Microsoft’s computer vision-based accessibility project called Seeing AI, that reflect inclusiveness and accessibility as a value. It is exciting and energizing to feel the momentum industry leaders are creating and, based on my experience, we have a long way to go.
Here are 5 common denominators this new research identifies that these successful companies organize around:
- “First, they hire people with disabilities, ensuring that they’re represented in the workplace.
- Second, they carry out practices that encourage and advance those employees.
- Third, they provide accessible tools and technologies, paired with a formal accommodations program.
- Fourth, they generate awareness through recruitment efforts, disability education programs, and grass-roots-led initiatives.
- Fifth, they create empowering environments through mentoring and coaching initiatives.”
Why it matters: Did you know 1 in 5 people in America have a disability?
“According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 29 percent of Americans ages 16 to 64 with a disability were employed as of June 2018, compared with nearly 75 percent of those without a disability. The unemployment rate for people with disabilities who are actively seeking work is 9.2 percent — more than twice as high as for those without a disability (4.2 percent). The NYT reports hiring only 1 percent of the 10.7 million people with disabilities have the potential to boost the G.D.P. by an estimated $25 billion.”
This article and time for reflection have made me realize, accessibility is not just an initiative or strategy, it is a value. It is at the core of what makes strong businesses even stronger, from top to bottom. If as a leader, you value accessibility both inside and outside of your work environment, then you are capable of attracting the best of what anyone brings to the table. It sounds so simple and yet …
“The one argument for accessibility that doesn’t get made nearly often enough is how extraordinarily better it makes some people’s lives. How many opportunities do we have to dramatically improve people’s lives just by doing our job a little better?” -Steve Krug