Why tech companies report on disability in the workplace

Technology has a remarkable way of leveling the playing field for people with disabilities, with many tech companies focusing on accessibility and seeking input to inform features on various products.

These same companies – Apple, Facebook, Google and others – also emphasize the importance of a diverse and inclusive workplace. So why don’t they include people with disabilities when reporting employment statistics? Steve O’Hear recently wrote about this for TechCrunch.

At its best, technology acts as an enabler for PWDs, helping to level the playing field, and therefore can be a genuine force for social mobility. However, since disability isn’t included in most technology companies’ public diversity reporting, what we don’t know is how well the technology industry itself is doing with regards to the number of PWDs it employs and how this compares company to company.

The reason why an increasing number of technology companies publish diversity reports regards gender, race and ethnicity— and why it’s important that they do so — is it sends a signal to other prospective employees that a workplace is inclusive and that diversity matters.

Crucially, it also enables publications like this one to hold those companies to account. Without the data to back it up we can’t say for sure if a company is becoming more diverse, regardless of what efforts they say they are taking or how much PR they generate.

One of the off-the-record arguments put forward to not include PWDs in diversity reporting is that the resulting data would be inaccurate. Since not all employees with a disability would feel comfortable declaring that they have one, and not every disability is visible, the process would be prone to under-reporting.

However, it is hard to see how technology companies can have it both ways: talking up an inclusive and supportive workplace culture whilst at the same time claiming that PWDs would be too afraid to identify as such.

Either way, if the technology industry is serious about employee diversity with regards to PWDs, then it needs to find a way to be accountable. You can’t solve the PWD diversity reporting problem until you admit that you have one. The first step is to begin talking about it.

O’Hear sent five specific questions to Intel, Apple, Twitter, Facebook, Slack, Google and Salesforce. Of those, Facebook, Salesforce and Google did not respond. The others provided answers to varying degrees.

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