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Interview with Rich Donovan, Top 50 Most Influential People with Disability

Posted on June 25, 2019 by All In

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This week, we are honoured to have Rich Donovan sharing with All In’s founder Daniel Tan his thoughts about:

  1. the case of SingPost’s discarded mail,
  2. hiring and onboarding best practices for people with disabilities,
  3. latest trends in corporate social responsibility, and
  4. the potential of consumers with disabilities as a market.

About Rich Donavan

Rich Donovan is the CEO of The Return on Disability Group and is a globally recognized subject matter expert on the convergence of disability and corporate profitability. He was named one of the Top 50 Most Influential People with Disabilities in the world by UK-based Powerful Media and Shaw Trust in October 2016.

Rich was appointed Chair of Ontario’s Accessibility Standards Advisory Council by the Minister of Economic Development, Employment and Infrastructure in January 2016.

He founded Lime, the leading third-party recruiter in the disability space, where he worked with Google, PepsiCo, Bank of America/Merrill Lynch, IBM, TD Bank and others to help them attract and retain top talent from within the disability market.

Rich holds an MBA from Columbia Business School and a BBA from Schulich School of Business at York University. Rich is an avid sailor and proud father of his son, Maverick, along with his wife, Jenn. He also happens to have cerebral palsy.

The SingPost Incident

Recently, an organization in Singapore encountered performance issues by an employee with special needs.

The case:

●        A member of the public found unopened parcels and letters discarded in a bin.

●        After investigation, SingPost found that a postman was responsible for the discarded mail and referred the case to the police. The postman has a disclosed disability.

●        The Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) gave a stern warning to SingPost for allowing mail integrity and security to be compromised.

●        IMDA issued an advisory to the postman in view of the facts and circumstances. IMDA said that the postman was fully cooperative and expressed remorse for his actions. He had been working satisfactorily for more than 3 years before this incident.

●        Singpost initially dismissed the postman in accordance with disciplinary guidelines. Later, it later offered him re-employment. Although he accepted the offer of another role, he had since left the organization.

●        SingPost stated that it would continue to offer jobs to suitable candidates who meet job requirements, as well as provide comprehensive training and support for employees.

News article here.

What do you think are some measures companies could have taken to avoid these issues?

I would want to understand why this happened. Amongst the questions I have are the following:

    • Did he need an accommodation because his route was too long?
    • What caused the behavior change?
    • Is this an isolated incident or more common?

While I do not know the facts of this case, it appears that this employee was more than capable of doing his job, having done so for 3 years. It appears that he then made a poor judgement, and needed to be dismissed.

I do think it is important to separate “disability” from one individual’s performance. I would think that training needs to include an explicit statement to either not throw mail in the garbage or to ensure due care is taken. I would take care to analyze the process, because my hunch is that this is more common than we know, and has nothing to do with disability. To be fair, on the surface, it appears that SingPost had handled it well.

This incident has resulted in negative reactions from the public. How can the public’s concerns be addressed from the organization’s perspective?

This looks like a process breakdown to me as well as a common mistrust of postal systems globally. SingPost needs to clearly communicate how it will rise to competitive pressures from other couriers and focus on service. SingPost can leverage this failure to improve delivery. SingPost needs to be honest with the public – disability likely did not cause this breakdown.

Hiring and Onboarding

What are some hiring and onboarding best practices you would recommend to a company who is keen on hiring individuals with special needs? What are some considerations they need to take into account and be prepared for?

    • First, stop using terms such as “special needs”. It is “people with disabilities” or “disabled people”. Anything else is at best silly and at worst insulting.
    • There is no “disability talent pool”. Disability organizations do not have access to talent. The best way to find great team members is by projecting a business-driven disability message into the talent pools that the company is already having success. Campus and lateral are typically the focus.
    • Messaging must focus on career success, not disability. Most firms get this wrong, and this approach guarantees failure.
    • Accommodations are easy, if process and key success factors are followed.
    • The CEO must lead and hold people accountable. Failure must hurt. (#1 key to success)

Corporate Social Responsibility

Companies are often keen on fulfilling their corporate social responsibility (CSR). However, there is often a lack of continuity and long-term planning. What advice do you have for the teams in charge of the CSR of a company?

CSR is largely PR.  Getting it right in non-traditional markets – women, disability, LGBTQ – requires:

    • insights into different utility functions (demand),
    • adjusting how you deliver delight (design), and
    • a set of metrics to measure success in terms of revenue/cost (returns).

This cannot be a CSR effort. It can start there, but the business must own customer delight and hiring the best talent available in all markets.

CSR teams need to focus internally on process and business results at least as much as attending conferences and sustaining charities. They need the CEO and the Board to support them with strategic revenue/cost goals, aggressive timelines and realistic budgets.

Forbes came up with a list of CSR trends to look for in 2018. It is now 2019, what are your thoughts about the items on the list and what are other upcoming trends? 

This writer is delusional. None of these items are material to businesses. The trends I see include:

1. CSR/Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) fatigue

Business leaders have been promised returns without investment. This is not real, and the better leaders are calling for change.

2. Examples of material success

We know what works now – insights, design and accountable adjustment. We also know that these successes are beyond CSR and D&I.

3. Demand has changed 

The market no longer accepts “we’re looking at it” as a response because the best companies are doing it. Every day. The average consumer expects companies to understand and deliver on at least the basics.

Potential of Consumers with Disabilities as a Market

Beyond hiring, how would you describe the potential of consumers with disabilities as a market? Can you tell us more?

Disability begins with identity.

An individual with a learning disability may not be deemed ‘medically disabled’, but having to develop alternative methods for interacting with the external environment may cause them to develop an internal identity as having a disability. The world of disability, rooted in medical terms for the last two centuries, is now a matter of self-perception. Identity is key, as it impacts the relationship between individuals and organizations as customers and employees.

In conversations with consumers and employees with disabilities, this identity is not monolithic and is highly contextual – loosely divided into two drivers: 1) functional demands – and – 2) brand connection.

Organizations that approach the disability market as a “block” report failure, as they fail to “dig” into these drivers in the context of experience. Approaching disability as a CSR, Diversity or charitable platform results in wasted opportunity and scarce financial capital.

The best source of data around self-identification of disability is the U.S. Census. The questions asked do not rely on medical diagnosis, but instead on how the individual assesses his or her own functionality. Making the logical assumption that disability does not recognize borders, the global estimate of the population of persons with disabilities (PWD) is 1.79 billion people. In addition, PWD control approximately $1.18 trillion in disposable income in the United States. Globally, PWD control at least $1.9T in disposable income. This figure does not include Asia, LATAM or Africa/Middle East due to difficulties in quantifying both population and income.







PWD Population


















Friends & Family






Friends & Family






Source:  US Census, US Department of Labor, Statistics Canada, European Central Bank, The Return on Disability Group

When you add PWD to Friends and Family, we’re talking about 73% of the population.

What have some of the major corporations around the world done to attract persons with disabilities as customers?

Big tech companies such as Google, Apple and Microsoft have built in multiple features into all platforms that assist PWD and core customers, driving revenue up.

turned-on MacBook

All the content found on the All In website, has been created for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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