The Business Case for Implementing an Accessibility Strategy

Designing and implementing an accessibility strategy empowers you to hire people with disabilities at your company, and doing so drives several business benefits.

In order to invest in an accessibility strategy, though, you need buy-in from business leaders. “It was always hard to get everybody to buy in at a certain level,” says Tony Cancelosi, President and CEO at Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind. “HR directors have to have the ability to help executive management understand why these things have to happen.”

Accommodating employees with disabilities brings demonstrated financial benefits. In fact, companies with outstanding track records on disability employment and inclusion were twice as likely to post higher total shareholder returns than other companies in their peer group, according to research from Accenture.

Designing a workplace that supports accessibility is a strategic investment that will pay dividends in higher profits and productivity. Here’s how to make a business case for implementing an accessibility strategy at your company.

Control Costs — and Risks

In business, everything comes back to the budget, especially when trying to get leadership’s attention. Executives may hesitate to implement an accessible strategy due to the cost of accommodations. But research from the Job Accommodation Network found that those costs aren’t as high as employers might believe.

More than half (56%) of accommodations incurred no costs to employers, in fact. In addition, 39% incurred only a one-time cost ($500 was the median expense). Only 4% incur ongoing annual expenses, and only 1% reported both one-time and ongoing costs.

Additionally, there are several tax incentives that can offset these costs.

Not implementing an accessibility strategy can actually be more costly. Failure to accommodate employees when it doesn’t pose an undue hardship on the company constitutes discrimination. The average disability discrimination case costs employers $40,000, but they can cost significantly more than that. (A recent case against Wal-Mart resulted in the retail giant being ordered to pay more than $125 million.)

A small upfront cost to accommodate employees is nothing compared to the risk of a discrimination claim.

Expand Access to Highly Qualified Talent

Persons with disabilities represent an untapped talent resource. Only 17.9% of people with disabilities are employed, compared to 61.8% of individuals with no disability. For many organizations, disability represents the largest gap in their diversity strategies. Only 18% of companies, in fact, represent disabilities as a dimension of workforce diversity on their career pages, according to SmartRecruiters’ State of Diversity Hiring Report.

With an accessibility strategy in place, you can tap into more qualified talent pools that other employers have overlooked.

Beyond accessing top talent, disability-inclusive companies earn several other strategic benefits, the research from Accenture found. Employees with disabilities can offer perspectives your company is missing, which increases innovation and supports a healthier, more engaging workplace.

Improve Productivity for Everyone

Accommodations provide additional support or resources that employees may need to perform their jobs. Instead of adapting current places and processes to accommodate employees, however, consider redesigning work to require fewer accommodations.

Implementing universal design, which involves designing places and processes to be used by the greatest number of people without requiring adaptations, can help employers achieve the benefits of hiring employees with disabilities with less disruption. This might mean only using technology that is compliant with web accessibility guidelines, for example, or giving all employees the option to work from home.

An accessibility strategy doesn’t just help employees with disabilities. It can also help older employees remain productive in the workforce longer, says Roselle Rogers, SPHR, Vice President of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Circa. The average retirement age is climbing, which means that your employees are likely to stay in the workforce longer than in previous decades. But the older we get, the more likely we are to acquire disabilities such as loss of sight or hearing. In fact, nearly half (46%) of people 60 years and older have disabilities

Implementing an accessibility strategy empowers all employees to find the ways they work best, thus driving productivity and engagement up. “Finding ways to help [employees] make more productive contributions to the workplace doesn’t just benefit them,” Rogers says. “It benefits the business.”