The onset of the coronavirus left workers everywhere grappling to deal with the “new normal” of working from home, but for individuals with disabilities (IWDs), the change has been a welcome improvement and has subsequently led to enhanced work conditions and morale that have leveled the employment “playing field” when compared to individuals without disabilities. Although unemployment rates for IWDs have decreased over the years–thanks to education, bias training and advancements in assistive technology–there is still much work to be done. In fact, while 79% of all prime-age (ages 25-54) adults in the U.S. have a job, only 40% of adults with disabilities in their prime working years are employed.1
So, what’s the problem? It often starts at home.
Despite employers’ dedication to complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by providing reasonable accommodations within the workplace, they often fail to realize the extra effort required and the difficulties faced by the individual to simply get to work each day. The task of getting dressed, making breakfast and traveling to the worksite can take hours longer for individuals with disabilities than for those without–and for many, even poses a risk of injury. Workplace accommodations aside, these factors remain a barrier to employment and often force IWDs to turn down jobs they are otherwise qualified for. According to a 2018 study by the American Foundation for the Blind, 38% of people with blindness and low vision said they have turned down a job offer simply due to concerns about transportation.2 This is a staggering statistic that does not begin to account for the countless other IWDs who have the same concerns.
The answer? Remote work options.
The ability to work from home eliminates transportation issues altogether, allows IWDs to wear more comfortable clothing and offers a safe and comfortable work environment where the individual can more easily focus on their work and contribute to the organization as the productive and valued employee they have always been. Flexible schedules are also beneficial, allowing the individual to work around doctor’s appointments, or work at times that are best for their pain or sensory tolerance levels. Of course, working from home may still require assistive technology accommodations, as required by the ADA, but this now seems a simple request when compared to all the barriers eliminated by flexible schedules and remote work.
Despite an increasing adoption rate of work-from-home and flex schedule options, prior to COVID-19, many employers still held stigmas surrounding remote work and its perceived effect on lower productivity. After being forced to work from home during quarantine, many companies have quickly learned that employees can work from anywhere just as effectively, if not more effectively, than in an office environment. In addition, the use of video interviews, virtual recruiting software, and the implementation of Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) to establish an accessible career site have become commonplace, eliminating another barrier to employment. This is an unexpected but sure win for the disability community.
When the time comes for your employees to return to work, we simply ask that you remember the lessons learned during the pandemic regarding remote work. If helping individuals who would otherwise remain unemployed find work means that you turn a traditional desk job into a fully remote position, what’s the harm? It’s a simple change for you, but can create lasting impact on someone’s life, as well as the labor market.
 “Only four our of ten working-age adults with disabilities are employed”. https://www.brookings.edu/blog/the-avenue/2018/07/25/only-four-out-of-ten-working-age-adults-with-disabilities-are-employed/. Accessed 2020 August 5.
 “Reviewing the Disability Employment Research on People who are Blind or Visuall Impaired: Key Takeaways”. https://www.afb.org/research-and-initiatives/employment/reviewing-disability-employment-research-people-blind-visually. Accessed 2020 August 5.
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