Disabled people mean business

There are many reasons why inclusivity and diversity belong on the business agenda, with genuine buy-in at the board level.

So said accessibility leaders Caroline Casey of The Valuable 500 and Haben Girma, newly-appointed as Lenovo's Accessibility and Inclusion advisor. The pair spoke at Google's London HQ for TechShare Pro, 2019. Speaking in separate sessions, the leaders highlighted:

Article based on sessions from TechShare Pro 2019 and updated November 2020

No room for "a la carte diversity."

Caroline Casey on stage at TechShare Pro 2019 in her "killer" dressOpening the conference, Casey told the conference attendees she "doesn't believe in a la carte diversity". And she'd been travelling the globe to ensure that inclusion was on the agenda of global business boards.

“Valuable 500 is a revolution. I don’t want any more for businesses to be on the sidelines. I have lived the experience that what will trigger the change," Casey said.

She highlighted that while 90% of companies claim to have a diversity agenda, only 4% consider disability. But, Casey said, “Something feels like it’s changing.”

“When a human need meets a business opportunity, that’s the potency, and that’s where technology and inclusive design is so important,” she said.

In a rallying cry, she told attendees: “Hear the voices. 53% of consumers; are you kidding? You don’t want to talk with us. Listen, these are our voices; we are here.”

Fast forward to TechShare Pro 2020, and every single main sponsor belongs to The Valuable 500.

How technology companies are embracing diversity

In 2019, Lenovo had just hired Haben Girma is the first Accessibility and Inclusion Advisor for Lenovo.

“Throughout history, many organisations have ignored disability, and I want to shift the dominant story that we are a burden on society…to seeing disability as an opportunity for innovation,” said Girma, who is the first deafblind graduate of Harvard Law. 

Haben has since received a Tech4Good Special Award

Joining her on stage, Paul Walsh, Lenovo’s Chief Digital Officer, said the company wants to “ensure we are building solutions, and a better human experience, for all.”

Apple’s Director of Global Accessibility Policy & Initiatives, Sarah Herrlinger, agreed.

She said companies need to: “stop approaching accessibility as a compliance issue, and start looking at it as an innovation challenge [to] make a better product for everyone.”

Paul Smyth, Head of Digital Accessibility for Barclays, says there’s been a subtle shift in the last 2-3 years whereby business is “no longer creating products for disabled folks but by and with.” 

Scope told delegates how business ignores the power of the purple pound at its peril. It's Big Hack research revealed that 75% of disabled people think that business is missing out because it is not embracing the purple pound.

Driving inclusion from the inside

It’s also vital that businesses include disabled people within the workforce.

“Start by hiring more people with disabilities. We’re talented, we are customers, designers, engineers and advisors and so include us in all aspects of the organisation,” said Haben.

She added, “If there is ableism that becomes a barrier,” said Haben drawing on her memoirs, Haben, the Deafblind woman who conquered Harvard Law.

“I wrote those stories because they teach us about ableism; we’re not a barrier, but society thinks we are.”

Having conquered Harvard, she says with Paul Walsh’s help, she is going to conquer Lenovo.

Microsoft’s Chief Accessibility Officer Jenny Lay-Flurrie, couldn’t agree more, urging businesses to “To see disability differently; it is a talent – we vehemently know that.

"How you nurture a group of people with disabilities is incredibly important. Leveraging talents is the biggest step-difference you can make. Embed it into your system and your business.”

TechShare Procast logoAbout TechShare Pro

Now in its fourth year, TechShare Pro is hosted by some of the world's biggest technology names.

The conference offers a few days to connect, learn and share with people from all over the world who build a more accessible and inclusive digital world.

Past panellists and speakers have come from apple, Google, BBC, Sony, Scope, Fraunhofer, Verizon Media, Amazon, Netflix and Channel 4.

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