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Edition 6 - The Workplace

Ability in focus

Ditching the idea of a physical and mental ‘norm’ for success in the workplace is one important step that has supported the rise of some of the greatest musical, intellectual and athletic legends in history. That serves as a lesson, and inspiration, for workers and employers worldwide.

Tenor Andrea Bocelli was born with congenital glaucoma, a condition that left him visually impaired. A blow during a football game when he was 12 left him completely blind. He went on to sell more than 75 million records and is considered to be one of the greatest tenors of his generation.

Economist John Nash suffered from acute paranoid schizophrenia but fought it and built an academic career that won him the Nobel Prize in economics in 1994 for his work on game theory.

Stephen Hawking, arguably the greatest scientist of his age, was paralysed from head to toe for over 30 years until his death in 2018.

All are and were geniuses in their own sphere of interest, adding to the body of knowledge in their disciplines. All overcame significant obstacles. And all were beneficiaries of workplaces that accepted and adapted to their physical or mental challenges, allowing them to thrive.

But while Bocelli, Nash and Hawking found workplaces that accepted and adapted, they are the exceptions. Most people with disabilities face significant challenges that able-bodied workers seldom consider. And that’s before they even start their job.

That said, awareness and action has turned a corner in many ways, which is an encouraging trajectory in the name of fairness, equality and productivity.  

A brief history

Workers with a disability face physical barriers getting to work, accessing buildings and using tools and equipment. Workplace technology often does not support workers with a disability, and there is a general lack of awareness and confidence among employers on how to include people with disabilities. There is also little help and support for workers with disabilities to maintain employment and explore career opportunities. And small businesses, who employ vast numbers of people, generally have no support mechanisms if they do employ a person with a disability1.

All that occurs over and above the fact that many people with disability also face societal stigmas and stereotyping.

People with disabilities are among the most under-employed cohort of potential employees across the globe. According to the US Department of Labor, the current labour force participation rate in the US is around 77 per cent, compared to just 37 per cent for people with disabilities2.

The number of people with a disability is huge, albeit difficult to compare across economies. The European Union estimates 120 million of its people have disabilities3. The US estimates the number of working age people with a work limitation is around 16 million4. The United Nations estimates one in six people in Asia – or 690 million men, women and children – live with a disability5. In Australia, that number is one in five6.

The economic and social consequences of ignoring the disabled workforce are significant. For individuals, data shows that they participate less in the workforce, are more likely to abandon education systems and are at greater risk of poverty and social exclusion. The risks are greater for women with a disability7.

For the economy, there is a massive loss in economic output because hundreds of millions of people across the globe are not able to fully contribute in an economic sense, either via the labour market, or through aggregate demand for goods and services.

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The tides are turning

While there is a long way to go, there has been some progress made among employers over the past decade. The benefits of employing people with disabilities are starting to accumulate.

The watershed moment for businesses and individuals occurred on 13 December 2006 with the adoption in the United Nations of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It followed decades of work and negotiations, and shifted people with disabilities from 'objects' of charity, medical treatment and social protection towards 'subjects' with rights, who are capable of claiming those rights and making decisions for their lives based on their free and informed consent, as well as being active members of society8.

It meant business had to start thinking differently about hiring people with disabilities. According to the United Nations agency, the International Labour Organisation: “There are... many encouraging developments in terms of legislation and policies and practices. Both in the private and public sector, the advantages of disability inclusion are increasingly being recognised9.”

Many companies have found that by employing persons with disabilities they have been better able to understand and serve their customers with disabilities. Adapting services to meet the diverse needs of persons with disabilities allows business to develop greater flexibility, builds reputation and reaches out to a sizeable market.”

- The United Nations


But it still has a way to go. The ILO (International Labour Organisation) has identified five objectives for the inclusion of people with a disability, based on global megatrends in employment.

The first is that new forms of employment integrate disability inclusion. The jobs of the future, which are often determined by technology, should consider the needs of disabled workers.

The second is that greater effort needs to be made to ensure life-long skills development and learning be available to people with a disability.

Universal design – whereby an environment is created so it can be accessed, understood and used to all people regardless of age or ability – should be embedded in all new infrastructure, products and services. That is the third objective.

The fourth is to make affordable and available assistive technologies. The final objective is to boost measures to include persons with disabilities in growing and developing areas of the economy, in recognition of their abilities.

“To be able to achieve these goals, disability inclusion needs to be further integrated with other initiatives contributing to an equitable future of work,” the ILO report says10. “Social protection is an important complement to achieving a future of work inclusive of persons with disabilities.”

  How real estate is adapting and progressing 

The United Nations heralds its Sustainable Development Goals as a blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet. One part of this blueprint for the United Nations is ensuring that physical and social spaces are fully inclusive for people living with a disability.

The real estate sector has a huge opportunity to work towards this goal in its provision and design of physical spaces, and it’s one that AMP Capital is working towards.

The AMP Capital real estate sustainability team is focusing on accessibility as a key priority in its recently launched 2030 Sustainability Strategy, committing to implementing best practice standards globally across our entire managed real estate portfolio by 2026.

What does this look like?

To improve accessibility for people living with some form of disability, AMP Capital has committed to doing things like improving physical access to buildings, providing parent rooms, quiet rooms, adult changing facilities, and developing more legible signage and digital communications. AMP Capital has also committed to training it's employees to understand and respond better to people with special needs.

As an early example, AMP Capital has recently opened a quiet room for people who can become easily overwhelmed in bright and busy environments at one of the centres we manage on behalf of clients. AMP Capital also operates two shopping centres in NZ that were the first to achieve a Platinum rating under the ‘Be.Accessible’ rating system.

You can read more about this in AMP Capital's ‘Why Sustainability Maters in Real Estate’ paper.

The productivity case

Employing people with a disability isn’t just a social obligation. It makes financial sense as well.

A recent report by consulting firm Accenture shows that American companies that embrace best practices for employing and supporting people with disabilities in their workforce have outperformed their peers on financial measures11. It compared the performance of 140 US organisations, including 45 companies that were considered disability champions. The results were stark.

In terms of revenue, net income and economic profit margin, firms that championed the employment of people with a disability outperformed those who didn’t. Companies who improved internal practices for disabled workers were four times more likely to see stronger shareholder returns12.

The major reasons companies have not leveraged persons with disabilities range from a lack of understanding of the availability of talent and potential benefits through to misconceptions about the cost versus return on investment of disability inclusion.

In the report, the disabilities rights lawyer and Connecticut state senator, Ted Kennedy Jr, who himself lost a leg to bone cancer when he was 12, says disability inclusion is the next frontier of corporate social investing and mission driven investing.

“Persons with disabilities present business and industry with unique opportunities in labour-force diversity and corporate culture, and they’re a large consumer market eager to know which businesses authentically support their goals and dreams.”

In an opinion piece in the New York Times13, Senator Kennedy went further, outlining the common denominators among the organisations best including disabled Americans.

  1. They hire people with disabilities, ensuring that they’re represented in the workplace.
  2. They carry out practices that encourage and advance those employees.
  3. They provide accessible tools and technologies, paired with a formal accommodations program.
  4. They generate awareness through recruitment efforts, disability education programs and grass-roots-led initiatives.
  5. They create empowering environments through mentoring and coaching initiatives.


He added that many companies had yet to recognise that people with disabilities could contribute economically: “Once companies are aware of these potential economic benefits, they should be motivated to bring persons with disabilities into the workforce to thrive as never before.”

 Getting it right

There is no single 'right way' of practicing inclusion for people with a disability in the workplace. What works in one industry may not work in another. What works for a certain form of disability might not be suitable for another individual. Government policies, legislation and incentives are difficult to compare across borders. Comparisons are fraught, though in most major economies not-for-profit organisations and universities have attempted to develop ranking.

Disability:IN, formerly the US Business Leadership Network, is a non-profit organisation that has developed the Disability Equity Index (DEI) in conjunction with the American Association of People with Disabilities. It is a benchmarking tool for disability inclusion. 

American companies self-report their disability policies and practices and receives a score out of 100. Last year, 111 companies achieved the maximum rating of 10014.

The International Labour Organisation’s Global Business and Disability Network (GBDN) includes 23 for-profit organisations, mostly headquartered in Europe, whose goal is to promote persons with disabilities. 

The companies range from a hotel group and retailer, through to financial services firms, luxury brand groups and telcos.

Japan is one of the few developed economies with legislated quotas for the employment of people with disabilities15. The country, which was selected to host the Olympic and Paralympic Games this year, has a legal employment quota of 2.2 per cent for all companies with more than 45 employees, although many companies do not meet this requirement16.

Looking ahead

Around the globe, businesses are awakening to the social and economic benefits of creating workplaces friendly to people with disabilities. Low unemployment rates in modern economies have helped improve the rate of employment for people with disabilities. But it still remains well below the overall rate of employment. The examples of Andrea Bocelli, John Nash and Stephen Hawking support the data: workplaces which allow people with a disability to thrive will do better than those that don’t.

Important Notes

While every care has been taken in the preparation of these articles, AMP Capital Investors Limited (ABN 59 001 777 591, AFSL 232497) makes no representation or warranty as to the accuracy or completeness of any statement in them including, without limitation, any forecasts. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance. Performance goals are merely goals. There is no guarantee that the strategy will achieve that level of performance. The information in this document contains statements that are the author’s beliefs and/or opinions. Any beliefs and/or opinions shared are as at the date shown and are subject to change without notice. These articles have been prepared for the purpose of providing general information, without taking account of any particular investor’s objectives, financial situation or needs. They should not be construed as investment advice or investment recommendations. An investor should, before making any investment decisions, consider the appropriateness of the information in this document, and seek professional advice, having regard to the investor’s objectives, financial situation and needs. This document is solely for the use of the party to whom it is provided and must not be provided to any other person or entity without the express written consent of AMP Capital.

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