Jill Houghton, president of Disability:IN, the world’s leading nonprofit for business disability inclusion and equality, says leadership culture is key to disability inclusion.

In the latest episode of the AHA! Moments for Diversity & Inclusion video series, SAP Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer Supriya Jha talks to Houghton about how her first job started a lifelong advocacy for people with disabilities and how accommodations can make all the difference.

Disability Inclusion: AHA! Moments in D&I

Click the button below to load the content from YouTube.

Disability Inclusion: AHA! Moments in D&I
Video by John Hunt

Seventy percent of the world’s population – 1 billion people – has an invisible disability, including anxiety, depression, hearing issues, or autism, to name but a few. Houghton, who has a learning disability, is one of them.

Houghton was lucky; accommodations at school meant that she had the extra time needed to process information in exams. But when she took her law school entrance exams, her luck ran out. With no extra time or accommodation, she fell behind. This changed the trajectory of her life. Instead of legal studies, an internship followed. Instead of a career in law, her first job was in Indianapolis, Indiana, placing people born with disabilities into employment.

The AHA! Moment

During her time in Indianapolis, Houghton recalls one client in particular, Erica, and how the job for her “wasn’t just about a paycheck, but that it was about respect and it was about being included in her community and having friends.” And, says Houghton, it “was at that moment that I knew why I existed, and I never turned back.” She has been a disability inclusion activist ever since.

It’s time to run a world where our differences are celebrated, equity is fostered, and everyone belongs

As president of Disability:IN, Houghton has been a driving force in promoting disability inclusion in companies and with the Disability Equality Index (DEI), a tool for measuring and offering best practices for disability inclusion. The DEI analyzes disability inclusion practices and processes in leadership and culture, employment practices, community engagement, and supplier diversity. It also offers advice on how to better disability inclusion.

In 2023, more than 480 companies participated in the DEI, including 69 Fortune 100 companies with more than 14 million U.S.-based employees and nearly 9 million non-U.S.-based employees. SAP was awarded the top score in the 2023 DEI rankings.

Workplace Accommodations and Leadership Culture

Only 5% of employees with a disability choose to disclose, and SAP’s Jha was keen to get Houghton’s insights on how to create a culture where disabled employees feel that they can articulate their needs and reach their full potential.

Houghton says the solution is twofold. First, leaders must use their platforms to be a disability inclusion ally or have the cultural space to own their identity – disabled or not. And second, workplace accommodations must be the norm.

Processes for requesting accommodations must be transparent and easy to follow. Managers must clearly understand how to arrange accommodations and, more importantly, budget must be available. If these processes aren’t easy, there is a risk that talent will be lost and that disabled employees will not have a sense of belonging.

Avoiding Microaggressions and Discrimination

To avoid microaggressions and discrimination against disabled employees, Houghton advocates using the best resource possible – your own employees, in particular disability employee groups. At SAP, there are Employee Network Groups such as SAP HEAR and Friends and Enabled@SAP.

Disability is a true cross-collaborative task. After all, Houghton concludes, becoming disabled is the “one team that anybody can join at any time in their life.”

Get the latest SAP news delivered to your inbox once a week