Today, disability inclusion is something America’s businesses are committed to advancing. Smart companies understand that people with disabilities represent a large and growing market and, as with any customer segment, one of the best ways to tap into it is to ensure it is represented in their workforce. In other words, they understand that inclusion works for business.
We at the U.S. Business Leadership Network are proud to provide a forum where businesses unite to learn and share leading trends, innovations and breakthroughs that will influence and redefine the future of disability inclusion across the enterprise. While this happens year-round through a range of activities at both the national and local levels through our affiliates, our annual conference provides an opportunity to celebrate, learn and reaffirm our commitment.
This year’s conference, which took place recently in Orlando, was one of our biggest yet, with more than 950 attendees. It also helped set the stage for October’s National Disability Employment Awareness Month, which seemed especially appropriate given this year’s theme of #InclusionWorks.
USBLN President Jill Houghton and ODEP's Jennifer Sheehy renew an alliance at the USBLN conference on Sept. 20, 2016. Photo credit: Lawrence Roffee Photography
USBLN’s strength is its business-to-business model, and our conference program this year strongly reflected that, featuring speakers from some of the nation’s (and world’s) most successful corporations. However, despite disability inclusion’s increasing recognition as a market-driven issue, it is also a policy-driven issue—stemming from legislation, including but not limited to Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. USBLN actually has roots in this federal policy context. Its forerunner was established in 1994 through the President's Committee on Employment with People with Disabilities with a national business advisory board chaired by U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue.
After eight years of support under the committee and later the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, USBLN was established as a national nonprofit. Even though we are now independent, given our origins and purpose to serve as a voice for businesses on disability inclusion, we greatly value continuing to work with ODEP to advance this issue in a way that benefits us both.
That’s why one of the most exciting parts of this year’s conference was renewing our ongoing alliance with ODEP, under which we conduct a range of work together. For example, we are proud to be a founding member of the ODEP-funded Campaign for Disability Employment and a partner in its Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion. We are also pleased to have contributed to ODEP’s employer policy framework (Business Strategies that Work) and sourced numerous employer case studies, including those featured in EARN’s Steps to Success tool, which focuses on disability inclusive strategies for small businesses in particular.
We count ODEP as a valued partner, because our missions are clearly aligned. We both know that #InclusionWorks. Working together, we are committed to helping more businesses put inclusion to work for their organizations — during National Disability Employment Awareness Month and every month.
Jill Houghton is the president and CEO of the U.S. Business Leadership Network.