Features | February 23, 2023
Remote Work: Bringing Opportunity to People With Disabilities
By Alyssa Alford
It’s no surprise remote work has been on the rise in the U.S. since COVID-19 struck in 2020, and its continued adoption suggests going remote is a highly valuable and necessary change of pace.
Implementing remote options for work has yielded numerous benefits, including increased productivity, broader hiring pools and the promotion of employee well-being through improved work/life flexibility. Going remote has also increased the volume of accessible work options, which can provide greater opportunities for people with disabilities looking to step into the work force.
What Are the Benefits?
Although many workplaces have been built or modified to meet the American with Disabilities Act (ADA), most still fall short of accessibility. Cramped doorways, cubicles and lack of ramps or elevators to accommodate wheelchairs or walking assistance devices can be inconvenient — or worse, dangerous in emergencies. When working from home, employees can set up spaces to suit their needs.
Commuting can also be difficult for those with disabilities, and remote work eliminates this stressor. Paying for transportation can be costly over time, especially if an employee is far from the office. In the long run, the lack of a commute can reduce a great deal of time, money and energy spent.
For some, teleworking can relieve stressors such as overstimulation, distractions and anxieties. Having control over your routine and surroundings may provide for a more comfortable and productive state of mind. This can be beneficial to neurodivergent workers or those with learning or cognitive disabilities.
The Future of Remote Work for People With Disabilities
In the past, teleworking jobs have been scarce, which created a barrier for some. One solution has been self-employment, which allows workers to have more control over their workday and environment. As of 2022, 50% of small businesses are run from home, with 9.6% of workers with disabilities being self-employed (compared to only 6.4% of people without disabilities), according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
This trend of self-employment is likely to continue when considering the increase in remote work, in conjunction with the rise in employment for people with disabilities. According to the Department of Labor, as of October 2022 the employment/population ratio for persons with a disability between the ages of 16-64 sits at 35.5% — a sizable jump from last year’s ratio of 31.4%. By comparison, the employment/population ratio for people without a disability in the same range is currently 74.6%, up from 72.5% in 2021.
Not only is the employment rate on the rise overall, but remote jobs are becoming more prevalent. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that between 2019 and 2021, the work-from-home population tripled in size from 5.7% to 17.9%. This number is expected to continue to rise throughout 2023. Companies are rapidly joining the work-from-home force, with some, including those of us here at Liftoff, opting to employ a fully remote team.
Creating a More Accessible Workplace
As more work-from-home jobs show up on the scene, it’s likely employment rates will continue to rise for the disability community. With that in mind, here are some factors for creating a more accessible future for every workplace as an employer:
- The newfound prevalence of remote work has pushed for the introduction of better options when it comes to accessibility rules and technology. There are many existing programs, tools and devices to assist with challenging tasks, whether you’re clocking in at home or in the office. When it comes to video conferencing, Zoom’s AI captioning capabilities is a fantastic option.
- As an employer, consider accessibility when sourcing and implementing internal tools and solutions. For example, an employee with visual impairment may need specialized software to change font type, size or color to do their job. Accessibility in this aspect is integral to creating a workplace suited to all needs.
- It’s important to keep websites updated to ADA-compliance standards to ensure accessibility for consumers and staff. This allows accessibility technology to run more efficiently. Technology is always evolving, and with the remote workforce growing, new and improved ways to address accessibility are expected to make an impact.
Enabling Remote Work for Your Organization
The first step toward enabling remote work is considering which positions within your organization can be effectively completed off-site. It’s possible you have many positions that don’t qualify, especially if employees must use specialized on-site equipment or work with extremely secure or sensitive materials. Below are questions to help determine whether a position is eligible for remote work:
- Is there a secure way for this employee to connect to your network? This might require VPN or zero-trust network connections.
- Does your employee have reliable internet access?
- Can this position operate with minimal supervision? Are you able to effectively track necessary employee goals and metrics?
- Can the tools your employee needs to perform their job be made accessible through VPN or general internet access?
- Does your company enforce a policy that would support remote work, including the proper handling of communications, secure documents, business attire and guidelines for remote work?
- Are you able to supply your employee with any additional tools or resources needed to ensure their success in a remote-only position?
- Do you have an internal resource who can support remote working employees in the event they run into issues?
If you are able to answer yes to all the questions above, you’re in a good position to consider remote work for your employees. Additional research may be necessary to completely identify which positions and employees are eligible for remote work.
Remote work isn’t for everyone. Depending on preferences and accessibility needs, some may be more comfortable in an office setting. As both options have variable pros and cons, opening up the option of working from home or the office invites flexibility and promotes accessibility for all. Remote work will continue to innovate and evolve employment opportunities, and will fuel further progress for the disability community as we work to make employment more accessible.
Staffing and Talent