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This is Capitalism: Up Close, Inspired, Explained

Oct 29, 2020

Patricia O’Connell interviews Jill Houghton, President and CEO of Disability:IN. October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. Patricia and Jill discuss the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the variety of Disability:IN programs promoting inclusion of people with disabilities in the workplace.


Listen in to learn what your company can do to accommodate your employees with disabilities and serve your customers who have disabilities.

Key Takeaways:

[:26] Patricia O’Connell welcomes Jill Houghton to CEO Stories on This is Capitalism.

[:57] Disability:IN is a global nonprofit that empowers businesses to achieve disability inclusion and equality. The organization grew out of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

[1:16] The primary sponsor of the ADA was Congressman Tony Coelho. He recognized that the ADA could not legislate attitudes, but businesses have the power to employ and shape our workforce.

[1:37] Disability:IN is the place where talent with disabilities and business intersect. Businesses respond to their professional peers. When they know that disability inclusion makes good business sense, they’re very responsive and competitive.

[2:10] Disability:IN partnered with the American Association of People with Disabilities. They created a benchmarking tool called the Disability Equality Index to help businesses take a deeper dive into their policies and practices and identify opportunities where they could be better.

[2:42] The Disability Equality Index is a tool that looks at leadership and culture, employment practices, enterprise-wide access, community engagement, supplier diversity, and Non-U.S. operations. Companies answer the questions and substantiate their answers.

[3:14] Disability Equality Index scores are from zero to 100. Scores of 80, 90, and 100 earn a designation of being a Top Place to Work for People with Disabilities. There is no such thing as perfection. A score of 100 means that they’re on the journey and committed to doing better. Disability:IN helps companies do better.

[3:50] Jill discusses the wide variety of programs at Disability:IN including mentoring, consulting, and certification.

[5:00] Jill has a learning disability. She grew up embarrassed that she didn’t read well or test well. She didn’t get into law school so she went to Washington D.C. and interned for Senator Robert Dole during the passage of the ADA. That led her to work in the disability field.

[5:49] Jill married a man who has a spinal cord injury. She has an 11-year-old who has ADHD and an anxiety disability. Her home is a “trifecta.” Jill was not diagnosed until after she failed the LSAT, but all her life she had trouble on timed standardized tests.

[8:00] Some companies have presented objections over the cost of accommodating workers with disabilities. It’s important to recognize that one in four Americans have a disability. As well as recruiting talent with disabilities, companies need to retain their currently employed talented people with disabilities.

[9:10] We encounter disability as we age. This COVID-19 pandemic with remote work exposes disabilities like depression and anxiety disorders. Before the pandemic, we had not talked about these taboo topics in the workplace.

[9:42] The ADA was passed 30 years ago. Twelve years ago, the ADA was amended to broaden the scope of covered disabilities to include such things as ADHD. Business is beginning to see a competitive advantage to include all people with disabilities in their business.

[11:44] How businesses that are inclusive of people with disabilities fare better than those that are not. It pays to be inclusive of people with disabilities.

[12:23] Accenture and Disability:IN teamed up to create the Disability Equality Index (DEI). Many best practices were mined from the index, including setting goals for your hiring and accessible technology and including businesses owned by people with disabilities in your supplier diversity program. What gets measured gets done.

[13:48] The DEI emphasizes leadership and culture. You can call accommodation a productivity tool, assisting an individual to perform the essential functions of their job. It’s important that all employees know how to request accommodation and for managers to know who pays for the accommodation and how the process works.

[14:42] It is a best practice to have a centralized equality fund so that managers know where that expense comes from. Data shows that on average, accommodations cost less than $500.

[15:29] The Board Chair at Disability:IN is the Chief Accessibility Officer at Microsoft and is deaf. The Board Treasurer has a global business role at Accenture. He is an amputee. These are senior leaders, identified as being people with disabilities. Disability is just part of their identity.

[16:33] Anxiety, depression, learning disabilities, autism, diabetes, and other disabilities may be invisible to others. The global pandemic has created an opportunity to lead with humanity and to get to know our team members and check in with each other.

[17:34] It’s a personal choice to identify as having a disability and it can be scary. Jill shares a personal experience from a recent virtual event where a senior leader in a multi-national company came out as an individual who has dyslexia. A leader sharing their story creates a culture that frees others to share their circumstances.

[19:11] Jill would advise companies starting to look at their disability practices to start an Employee Resource Group for people with a disability. Your greatest resources are your people. Don’t talk about people with disabilities without involving people with disabilities. Then leverage tools like the DEI. Participate in the Disability:IN campaign “Are You In?”

[21:36] “Are You IN” is more than a pledge; it’s a commitment backed with measurable actions. These are companies that have participated in the DEI that are calling on their peers to take this critical step.

[22:23] Jill recaps the progress in the public space in the 30 years of the ADA, and where we go from here, including mobile devices, the Cloud, and remote work with virtual platforms, meetings, and file sharing. Companies are starting to acknowledge that this is an area where there is great room for improvement. Engage your people.

[24:03] A more inclusive workforce allows you to relate better to your customers. Use focus groups. Jill uses as an example Marriott International’s engaging with professionals with disabilities who travel to make sure their hotels are accessible to all. Do the right things for your customers; your employees with disabilities will help.

[25:08] Patricia thanks Jill Houghton for being on the podcast, This Is Capitalism.


Mentioned in This Episode:

Jill Houghton



Tony Coelho

American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD)

Disability Equality Index

Robert Dole

The ADA Amendments Act


Getting to Equal: The Disability Inclusion Advantage

Are You IN

Marriott International