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Eli Lilly and Company: The Right Prescription for Disability Inclusion

Learn how Eli Lilly’s self-identification program has driven the promotion of diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility initiatives.

Eli Lilly and Company Logo: Lilly


Eli Lilly and Company

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According to its motto, Eli Lilly and Company (Lilly) “unites caring with discovery” to create medicines for people around the world. Founded in 1876 and headquartered in Indianapolis, IN, the company has 36,000 employees worldwide, with research and development facilities and manufacturing plants in 7 countries. Lilly also conducts clinical research in more than 55 countries, and its products are marketed in 120 countries. Across all operations, Lilly is committed to creating an inclusive culture that fosters a sense of belonging for employees with disabilities. To meet this goal, the company has developed a variety of initiatives, policies, and practices, including a self-identification program.

Self-identification” is a practice used by organizations to measure the number of job applicants and employees with disabilities they attract. Self-identification can help organizations meet their goals with respect to people with disabilities. The process is voluntary, confidential, and used only for the collection of data to be used in aggregate. 

Lilly’s self-identification program began in 2013. Although Lilly’s disability self-identification program was initially developed for regulatory compliance-related reasons, its growth is driven by a broader focus on diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA). The company uses the aggregate data it collects to expand existing disability-focused initiatives and create new ones, using corporate communications and targeted campaigns to encourage participation. 

Educating employees on why self-identification matters can be a challenge for organizations. As a result, self-identification campaigns must be carefully planned. To ensure success, applicants and employees need to feel comfortable, heard, respected, and protected. In this spirit, Lilly’s most recent self-identification campaign, “Count Me In, Your Differences Make a Difference,” was very successful. Lilly is proud to exceed the 7% utilization goal established under Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act. The campaign was promoted to all of Lilly’s employees in the U.S. and supported by the company’s affirmative action point representatives within business units. It was also supported by employee resource groups (ERGs), including but not limited to EnAble, the company’s disability-focused ERG. 

Lilly’s self-identification campaign was spearheaded by its top leadership, but it is just one example of executive support for and engagement in disability-focused initiatives and programs, internally and externally. For example, Lilly is a member of the National Organization on Disability (NOD) and the Valuable 500, organizations focused on promoting workforce disability inclusion. Lilly’s CEO has also signed Disability:IN’s CEO-to-CEO Letter. In addition, Lilly participates in the Disability:IN and American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) Disability Equality Index (DEI) each year to assess and benchmark its disability inclusion efforts and has scored 100% for the last several years. In 2021, Lilly signed the Business Disability Forum’s (BDF) Accessible Technology Charter, demonstrating its commitment to embedding accessibility in all aspects of the company, making it “business as usual.” Lilly’s partnership with the BDF informs the company’s global disability inclusion strategy and helps develop disability-focused ERGs in the UK, Germany, Italy, Japan, India, and Australia.

In addition, the company created “Access Lilly,” an internal program focused on creating and supporting a “disability-confident” culture that encourages barrier-free experiences and increased productivity for all employees and customers. The program includes various focus areas supporting a disability-inclusive workplace culture. It is sponsored by the Senior Vice President of Human Resources and Diversity and comprises more than 400 “accessibility champions.” Access Lilly includes the Accessibility Champions Network, a community of employees who have the desire to learn, develop skills, and share best practices in accessibility and inclusive design. Employees do this by further educating themselves and sharing what they learn with others in the company. The number of accessibility champions continues to grow, in the U.S. and internationally.

Focus areas of the Access Lilly program include:

  • Overall Accessibility: Lilly is committed to supporting employees with disabilities around the world. In 2019, the company established a Global Disability Council with an initial focus on accessibility. Lilly now has task forces and detailed action plans to improve accessibility in priority areas such as learning and development, facilities, digital solutions, internal communications, and externally facing websites.
  • Accessibility of Learning and Development Programs and Tools: Lilly’s efforts to make its online programming universally accessible has made the company’s learning and development tools and programs more user-friendly for everyone. Lilly continues to update design standards for training courses to ensure learning experiences are as inclusive and effective as possible for everyone. Examples include ensuring courses are compatible with assistive technologies such as screen readers for low vision and blind employees and providing transcripts for people who are D/deaf or hard of hearing. 
  • Accessibility of Facilities: These efforts include benchmarking best practices and using technology to improve the navigation of the built environment in all of Lilly’s facilities across the world. Lilly has conducted accessibility assessments in more than 10 countries, covering 240 buildings/floors across the U.S., Europe, and Asia. This has enabled the company to create remediation plans and secure needed funding for improvements. For new buildings and refurbishments, Lilly takes an inclusive design approach, often going beyond recognized or required standards. 
  • Accessibility of Information Systems: Accessibility standards have been incorporated into the Lilly Design System to ensure a level of consistency for the majority of externally facing websites. In addition, the company is making similar improvements internally, including requiring captions for videos and virtual meetings and increasing assistive technology options for productivity tools available to all employees.

Through these efforts, Lilly aims to continuously equip teams with the knowledge, skills, and tools to embed accessibility and inclusion across all aspects of the company. It acknowledges more work is needed to ensure the sustainability of its disability inclusion efforts. However, Lilly believes the increased engagement of employees and leadership shows that barriers to success can be proactively addressed, leading to a more accessible and inclusive company.