Disability as a source of innovation

Disability as a source of innovation

With Enel’s Value4Disability project, people with disabilities are playing a leading role in innovation: it’s not just a matter of inclusion, but of empowerment.


In the wildest corner of the Ecuadorian Andes, a mountaineer falls down a snow slope and finds himself in a valley isolated from the rest of the world. When he realizes that the inhabitants of this place are all blind, he thinks that he will be able to rule them. But things turn out very differently: life in the village takes place at night when the temperatures aren’t so hot. Therefore, it is the mountaineer who is at a disadvantage, not having the sharpened senses and facility of movement that the others have developed over time.

This is the plot of the short story The Country of the Blind, by the great English author H.G. Wells. It’s an apologue on disability that still has much to teach us about diversity and differing perspectives. Still today, in fact, people with disabilities often experience forms of exclusion. In Italy and Spain, the percentage of people with disabilities who are fully integrated in the employment market is, respectively, just 20% and 34 %. This situation not only penalizes those directly concerned, but also deprives the economy of important talents and resources.

The Enel Group pays the utmost attention to the inclusion and enhancement of people with disabilities. This approach has been bolstered over the years and fits in perfectly with our new model: kind leadership which, in the words of Guido Stratta, Head of People and Organization at Enel, “is geared towards welcoming and accepting people and naturally addresses everyone.”


From inclusion to empowerment

In 2015 we introduced a diversity and inclusion policy and in 2019 we joined the global movement Valuable 500, an initiative created by the companies most sensitive to this issue to place disability at the top of the agenda for companies and to take advantage of the huge potential for society and business.

On this basis, in 2020 we launched the global project Value4Disability with ambitious targets: to promote, through concrete actions, “not only the full inclusion of people with disabilities, but also, above all, their empowerment,” Paola Magrini, the project’s global coordinator, explains. This entails promoting the autonomy of people with disabilities and their involvement in organizational life, representing their interests and harnessing their unique contribution in order to create value.

Nowadays, for example, only 5% of companies offer products designed in an inclusive way. Often, therefore, disabled people themselves have to use their own creativity to modify and reinvent products and then spread the word. In this way their personal experience can prove to be of great use to the business world and interesting market scenarios open up, if we consider that around the world people with disabilities number more than 1.3 billion (more than 16% of the world’s population). As Ernesto Ciorra, Head of Innovability® at Enel, explains, “disability is a source of inspiration for innovation and an incredible opportunity for filling gaps in the market by creating social and economic value: this is our Valuability® model.”

The project, which has been launched in 16 countries, is aimed at the roughly 2,200 people with disabilities who work at our Group but also at our customers and society in general. In each of the countries involved we have activated a local multidisciplinary team that includes a diversified range of skills, from communication to procurement, and we have set up a Disability Inclusion Community which is made up of around one hundred colleagues with disabilities and caregivers.


Listening, physical and digital accessibility

Following the Valuability® model, we have produced the Enel Work Inclusion Questionnaire to listen in a new way to the needs of our colleagues with disabilities and to understand how we can support their inclusion and active participation. The questionnaire will be put to colleagues, on a voluntary basis, in the second half of the year.

In numerous countries awareness-raising initiatives have been launched to boost the inclusion of people with disabilities and, more generally, to emphasize the wealth that diversity brings to our organization.

In all of the initiatives linked to the project, the first step is always to listen to people’s needs, before examining the current scenario and finding creative solutions. For example, in Brazil and Colombia, where we won a contract to supply electric buses, we get members of the Disability Inclusion Community to try out the vehicles so they can assess how user-friendly they are. In Italy these members tested the accessibility of our store in Rome: thanks to their input, we can make the appropriate modifications which make things better for everyone.

Similarly, the Community will be able to assess the safety of communal areas in order to further reinforce the benefits for all, testing innovative products that we have already helped reach the development or implementation phase: examples include the electric wheelchair Avanchair and the Pedius system for automatic subtitling of videos for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. Among the other initiatives, in Chile we have financed a kit that converts manual wheelchairs into electric ones, while the Lazarillo project in Argentina is designed to help disabled people (and in particular the hard of hearing or the visually impaired) to move around our stores.

Naturally, a key factor is digitalization, which is one of the pillars of Enel’s strategy at all levels. If people with disabilities are able to take part fully in social and working life, they need technology and, in particular, accessible websites and software. “Digital accessibility is the basis of digital democracy, the enabling factor of every process of inclusion and empowerment,” explains Carlo Bozzoli, Head of Global Digital Solutions.

For this reason, we have prepared a way for our colleagues with disabilities to flag cases of digital inaccessibility, equating the latter with malfunctions: the system has been activated in Italy and Spain, but we plan to roll it out in other countries. Aligned with this approach is the Veasyt app, with which we have integrated simultaneous sign language interpreting into the Pedius system.

Finally, we attach great importance to raising awareness among all our coworkers about issues linked to disability. We have, therefore, conducted specific training for the staff who deal with customers in our stores, so far in Colombia and Romania and soon elsewhere. We have also held webinars on disability in many countries where the Enel Group is present, countries that vary significantly in terms of their cultural contexts, including, most recently, Morocco and India.


A great leap forward

The project has already produced around 170 initiatives with the involvement of 165 people in multidisciplinary teams. When added to the members of the Disability Inclusion Community, the total amounts to almost 300 people.

Aside from the numbers, after less than two years we can draw up an initial balance sheet: to describe it as positive would be an understatement. According to Paola Magrini, “the project has generated something more than enthusiasm, it has generated an ethical passion, activated innovation and opportunities to make improvements for everyone.” From a practical perspective, “perhaps the most important aspect is that we have made an important leap forward concerning the attention to disability, from an individual and spontaneous approach to one that is professional, structured and scalable.”

And, thanks to the new project, our commitment to inclusion has earned us important recognition at international level. In 2021 Enel took seventh place in the Top 100 of the Refinitiv Diversity and Inclusion Index, where it is also the top Italian company and the number one overall for the energy sector. Furthermore, in terms of disability, Enel North America has been classed as the “best place to work for disability inclusion” by the Disability Equality Index®.

For the future, Paola Magrini explains that “the Group’s disability policies will be increasingly incorporated into the broader range of actions to assist the communities where Enel operates, to protect all disadvantaged categories, from families in economic difficulty to communities that live in isolated areas, the elderly or population groups experiencing energy poverty. The Value4Disability project is a driver of innovation, a harbinger of new initiatives and, above all, new horizons. Not only that, it can generate shared value.”