Blog | 4 Jul 2019

Disability Awareness Day 2019: Reflecting on Progress Towards Disability Inclusion in Asia

This opinion piece forms part of our IMPACTxAsia blog series

Disability Awareness Day 2019: Reflecting on Progress Towards Disability Inclusion in Asia

Disability Awareness Day is celebrated around the world on 14 July. In the lead up to this day, we examine disability in the workplace in Asia and the progress made (or not) towards mainstreaming an inclusive approach through a talent management or development lens, rather than a CSR or philanthropic add-on. The lack of awareness around disability is a global issue, not contained to Asia. Disability activist Caroline Casey’s movement The Valuable 500 Campaign highlights with its parody video Diversish the ways that companies often overlook disability as a key component of D&I strategy. Over the last ten years, we have, unfortunately, seen slow progress towards the integration of disability provisions within diversity and inclusion (D&I) policy in Asia. This assumption was validated in 2018 when our D&I in India Best Practice Benchmark Report revealed that disability is generally seen as a low priority compared to other aspects of D&I, such as gender. In fact, less than half of respondents (47%) had a disability strategy in place for India. This is particularly disappointing to see in India where, in 2016, The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill obligated employers to make provisions for employees with disabilities. Despite this, only 59% of participants in the Benchmark have published a disability policy, and only 38% have appointed a liaison officer to focus on the recruitment of people with disabilities.

What is clear, is that a shift in the overall way disability is seen within companies is needed. Early last year we published a resource entitled Disability Impacts Us All: The Need for a Broader Perspective on Disability. While the publication itself was focused on the Indian market, the principles can be applied across the region. In essence, disability has been viewed very narrowly, with a focus on the targeted recruitment of people with specific visible disabilities (for example, the hearing, visual or mobility impaired) However, widening the conversation to include invisible or hidden disabilities, such as mental health, chronic pain or long term health conditions (to name but a few), forces us to recognise that disability is not just about a distinct group of ‘others’, but potentially  impacts us all. With that in mind, a holistic approach to policy and implementation of interventions is vital to create an inclusive and cohesive working environment. We acknowledge that this can be a daunting shift to make for companies and identifying where to start is a crucial first step. There are a few broad areas that are useful for companies to consider:

  • How are we identifying and supporting current employees with invisible or hidden disabilities?
  • How well equipped are we to respond to the needs of employees who acquire a disability?
  • What support are we providing to employees in their roles as carers and parents of family members with a disability or long-term health conditions?
  • How are we meeting the needs of the growing number of employees with mental health conditions?

Over the past few years, global awareness around mental health and its toll on the population has been growing. In 2017 The World Health Organization identified depression as the leading cause of disability worldwide, estimating that if affects more than 300 million people. In Asia, in particular, the problem is intensified by taboo and fear of societal judgement, meaning that people often hide their symptoms rather than seeking help or disclosing conditions to employers. There is a clear business case for addressing mental health in the workplace: appropriate interventions can increase productivity and engagement among employees, not to mention the benefits to reputation and positioning as an employer of choice. In our 2018 study, Embracing Mental Health in the Workplace in Asia, we identified the specific issues facing markets across the region regarding mental health and layout recommendations to mitigate, including:

  • Training and equipping leaders to show empathy and care
  • Creating a culture of psychological safety where employees are not fearful of negative repercussions
  • Building a workplace where people can bring their whole selves to work
  • Providing proactive support to empower employees to perform at their best.

To combat the stigma associated with disability and mental health in Asia, and increase awareness and acceptance in the workplace, a bold and creative solution is needed. In 2013 Barclays initiated This Is Me, a programme that centres on the sharing of stories and lived experiences as a way to challenge the stigma and open up conversations. The programme has been so successful that is now adopted by hundreds of other organisation – indeed by the end of 2018, over 500 organisations in the UK were involved in This is Me, reaching over one million employees. It has become a game changer in terms of creating not only greater awareness, but also a culture of acceptance. Recognising the impact of this approach, Community Business is currently taking steps to introduce This is Me in  Asia, most recently organising an event in India focused on The Power of Storytelling.  With plans to release an Employers’ Guide, Community Business is looking to mobilise the corporate sector – encouraging companies to be a part of this global initiative so that together we can reduce the stigma and impact positive change.


About the Author: Emily Moss, Senior Manager, Marketing & Communications, Community Business