Bridging the global disability divide

The focus on wellbeing and flexibility in international assignments – as well as in the wider world of work – is an ideal opportunity for leaders, talent managers and global mobility to reconsider how they can best support people with physical disabilities achieve career goals through international moves.

Image of man in wheelchair working at desk

This article is taken from the Autumn 2023 issue of

Think Global People magazine

Click on the cover to access the digital edition.
View your copy of the Autumn 2023 issue of Think Global People magazine.

Globally, around one in four people have a physical disability. In the US alone, the number of people with disabilities who are either underemployed or unemployed is an estimated 10.7 million. Legislation like the UK’s Equality Act 2010 theoretically improves access to employment, protects wellbeing through employer duty of care and prevents discrimination. Yet, a number of recent reports highlight the ongoing opportunity gaps and income disparities including in senior-level roles for people with disabilities and chronic physical conditions.

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In June, Lancaster University’s Work Foundation identified that 27% of disabled workers (1.3 million) in the UK are in severely insecure work. This compares to 19% of non-disabled workers.Such inequality is reflected at all levels. Disabled people in senior positions are more likely to experience severely insecure work than their peers. Women and people of colour with physical disabilities are also often doubly impacted. Interestingly, people with disabilities receive more training than people without disabilities, suggesting skills and knowledge is less likely an obstacle to career progression.Recognising that people with physical disabilities may find it difficult to enter, stay and progress in their work through a lack of reasonable adjustment and understanding how a condition can flare up or be managed in the workplace is a start, says the Work Foundation in one of several recommendations.In August, the UK trades union body, the TUC, went further to call for mandatory disability pay gap reporting. The TUC’s calculations show the pay gap for people with all disabilities widened in 2022 to 17.2%, compared to 16.5% in 2021. This equates to £3,700 a year on average. For women with disabilities, the gap is 35%.TUC General Secretary Paul Nowak said: We know a lack of reasonable adjustments also prevents people from progressing at work, so we need to ensure disabled people get the adjustments they need to stay in their jobs – without having to wait months for them to be considered. It’s time to introduce mandatory disability pay gap reporting to shine a light on inequality at work.”

More inclusive talent pipelines – global mobility’s role

The changing and more flexible nature of the workplace – increased international remote working, improved flexibility around working hours and location, and the all-important focus on wellbeing – offers an excellent opportunity for talent and global mobility expertise to act on what the data is showing, the greater awareness of the barriers, and to lean into these trends to improve access to opportunity and future-proof talent pools. This is especially important when we recognise that anyone can develop a chronic physical condition, or be involved in an accident, that limits their physical, sensory or motor skills at any time, particularly as retirement ages increase.With all this in mind, forward-thinking employers around the world are signing up to disability charters like Disability:IN – including Expedia, Grant Thornton, Hilton, KPMG, Airbus, Apple, Accenture, AkzoNobel, Barclays and Boeing. They are involved in a range of activities across workplace culture, supply chain and community engagement, enterprise-wide practices and access.Disability:IN’s ‘Disability Equality Index 2023’ shows that among the foundational practices to a disability-inclusive organisation are:
  • offering flexible work options (99%, up from 96% in 2022)
  • hosting a disability-focused employee resource group (89%)
  • disability-focused information in new hire orientation (91%)
  • wellness benefits that extend beyond their employee assistance programme (EAP) and mental health benefits (85%).
With what Disability:IN calls “the forgotten D in diversity” now increasingly in the spotlight, employers are committed to building more inclusive talent pipelines and workforces that better reflect their markets and customers.

Technology and inclusion in accommodation booking

The global mobility supply chain will therefore increasingly be called on to service this diverse population in line with the evolving DEI landscape. In many ways, the accent on wellbeing and the increased spectrum of international assignment types has, theoretically at least, turbo-charged the possibilities for people with physical disabilities looking to deepen their international experience and enhance their career.Technology is also powering change in this respect. AirBnB for example has in recent years suggested accessible events to disabled travellers as it moves tentatively to a more concierge-style approach to accommodation booking. Employers who use different booking platforms are also seeing the benefits of increased awareness and tailoring for all assignees, including people with disabilities.At ReloQuest, Inc., for example, there is a commitment to inclusivity and accessibility in every aspect of its cloud-based temporary accommodation and hotel booking platform, says Jeana Giordano, the platform’s global director of communications.“When it comes to assisting individuals with disabilities during their search for and stay in corporate accommodations, our platform goes the extra mile. We have enabled users to find accommodations that easily meet their specific accessibility requirements. From wheelchair accessibility to accommodations tailored for sensory impairments, our platform empowers individuals to identify and book accommodations that cater to their unique needs.“Furthermore, we collaborate closely with accommodation providers to ensure they adhere to accessibility standards, making the booking process more transparent and trustworthy. Through these efforts, ReloQuest, Inc. strives to make corporate accommodations accessible and comfortable for everyone, fostering a more inclusive and accommodating environment for individuals with disabilities.”Joanna Cross, chief operating officer at Ariosi, the research and consultancy that publishes the annual ‘Global Serviced Apartment Industry Survey’, concurs. “Our sector is fairly au fait with handling unique and personal requests. We’re in the market of hospitality and a customer-centric culture is at the core of any successful serviced apartment product or temporary living supplier.“We’re in the advantageous position of already being accommodating and hospitable. In the past that might have looked like requests for parking, balconies, certain amenities, facilities for families and so on. Today, those items are still typically asked for, but we’re experiencing many more layers to requests, and these often focus on more personal elements like accessibility, functionality, user experience and specialist needs. I think it’s fair to say that it’s more normalised in our sector, so it’s easier for the user to seek more information and support without fear of judgement. Of course, we’re always learning and evolving. The next step is for the tangible product to catch up.”On this, the picture is positive and improving. In the serviced apartment sector’s mature markets, like London, Ariosi’s research suggests that forethought by developers and operators means a diversity of product, which likely means reasonable availability for a product that caters for physical disability.

Managing healthcare plans and accessible workplaces

Excellent communication to support people with physical disabilities on international assignments or their accompanying family members does not stop at securing the right property in a location that also meets their accessibility needs, or ensuring their new workspace is fit for purpose. Extra attention to pre-departure health checks and insurance is also important if the employee is to be properly supported.This might include consideration of access to prescribed medication, which may not be available in the host country. The quality and proximity of primary and secondary healthcare, as well as routine medical check-ups and conversations around time off to manage flare-ups and flexible working, are also likely to be considerations so assignees can best manage their overall wellbeing.Sarah Dennis, head of international at Towergate Health & Protection says: “Many chronic conditions will not stop people from working abroad, but they may need a little extra support to help them manage their condition and stay as healthy as possible.”With wellbeing, equity and inclusion high on the international business and talent management agendas, the disability lens is an important one for global mobility and leadership to look through. The foundations are already there, but acknowledgement of individual needs and the obstacles that currently exist is an important aspect of meeting strategic and individual goals.

Read more on the DEI, ESG and wellbeing agendas in the Autumn issue of Think Global People magazine. Reserve your copy here.

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