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Richard Branson helps launch new disability campaign for businesses

Alanna Petroff
Senior Economics Correspondent at Yahoo Finance UK

Billionaire businessman Richard Branson is backing a new campaign to get 500 global businesses to commit to putting disability issues on their board agendas.

His Virgin Media business has already signed up, alongside nine others including Unilever (ULVR.L), Microsoft (MSFT), and Barclays (BARC.L).

“Disability can no longer be a conversation reserved for charity and health organisations,” Branson said in a new campaign video. “It’s time more brands woke up to the collective benefits of understanding people with disabilities and their needs … The inclusion revolution is coming. Make sure it’s on your agenda.”

Over 11 million people in the UK, or about 17% of the population, suffer from long-term illness, impairment, or disability, according to statistics from the UK government.

The percentage is roughly the same in other parts of the world. About 15% of the global population suffer from some form of disability, according to a 2011 report from the World Health Organization and World Bank.

Richard Branson is campaigning to bring the topic of disability into corporate boardrooms. Photo: Axelle/Getty Images

The new campaign, dubbed Valuable 500, was launched in Davos, Switzerland at the World Economic Forum (WEF) by Irish disability campaigner Caroline Casey.

Casey, who is registered blind, told Yahoo Finance UK that encouraging businesses to talk about disability and inclusion will help solve the “disability inequality crisis.”

Her organisation, #valuable, cites estimates that people with disabilities are about 50% more likely to experience poverty and 50% less likely to get a job.

“The economic case … is already there,” she said in a special one-to-one video interview. “You can’t ignore such a mass swathe of our global market, particularly in a time of hyper-competition. Our conversations need to happen at the top to release the potential throughout the business.”

Caroline Casey is founder of #valuable. Photo: Jack Caffrey/Binc