Law360 (July 11, 2023, 4:36 PM EDT) — The group behind the Disability Equality Index, which businesses and law firms use to measure their workplace inclusion efforts, announced Tuesday that seven law firms had been recognized for their progress in making their workplaces more accommodating for employees with disabilities in 2023. The report, which disability inclusion nonprofit Disability:IN started in 2015, aims to help businesses
and law firms create an inclusive and accessible business environment in which people with disabilities can participate.
Nine law firms participated in this year’s report, and seven were recognized as having achieved the index’s “Best Place to Work for Disability Inclusion” recognition: Ballard Spahr LLP, Davis WrightTremaine LLP, Epstein Becker Green, K&L Gates LLP, Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP, Reed Smith LLP and Steptoe & Johnson LLP. According to Disability:IN, the firms had to score at least 80 on a scale of 100 in order to be recognized. Firms were scored in areas including culture and leadership, enterprise-wide access, employment practices, community engagement supplier diversity and non-U.S. operations. Along with the law firms, a total of 485 corporations across 30 industries including technology, banking and health care used the index to measure their disability inclusion efforts in 2023, a 17% increase in participation from last year, Disability:IN said. Its CEO Jill Houghton said in a news release on Monday that the Disability Equality Index can help law firms and businesses better understand what changes they can make to improve disability inclusion efforts at their workplaces.
“The DEI isn’t just about a score; it’s about illuminating practices that have the most impact,” Houghton said. “Equipped with this knowledge, businesses today have an unprecedented opportunity to embrace the innovation and unique perspectives that talent with disabilities bring to the table.” Carrie Valiant, who helps oversee Epstein Becker’s diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, said highlighting and improving inclusion efforts has been a priority. Valiant said disability workplace inclusion can encompass an array of concerns and initiatives and that the New York-based firm has worked to address and improve in recent years. “It certainly means accessibility and having an infrastructure in place that is able to accommodate folks with disabilities,” she told Law360 Pulse on Monday. “I think one of the things that we all struggle with is the definition of disability — there can be invisible issues that companies need to really try and draw people out in order to understand whether they need accommodation.” She said Epstein’s initiatives and events, which include firmwide town hall discussion forums, educational programming and an annual reception, have helped to highlight disability inclusion at the firm.
“We really wanted to do well with this, and one of the things that we do with DEI programming is focus on accountability,” she said. “That takes a number of different avenues, and so we’re asking ourselves how do we benchmark what we’re doing, are we focusing on the right areas and what can we do to improve?” Valiant said she considers disability inclusion as the next frontier in the general DEI landscape for the legal industry. As law firms across the country make efforts to be more accommodating, the inclusion work is leading to a broader understanding and recognition of disability issues, she said. “I think this is sort of one of the last bastions,” she said. “And I think the time has come. … You can see that a lot of organizations are thinking about it. They’re trying to move the ball forward and not be left out of the room. I think it’s just time.”