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Disabilities and The Remote Workplace – Will Remote Work Enhance Disability Inclusion?

There is no doubt that the COVID 19 crisis has forever changed the way we lead our lives. Nowhere is this change more apparent than in the workplace. Once relegated to a few select jobs and industries, working remotely has quickly become the ‘new normal.’ Along with many other Americans, the intellectually and developmentally disabled (I/DD) community has experienced both the positives and negatives of remote work life. However, in a post-pandemic world will this trend stick, and will remote working hurt or hinder Disability Inclusion?

Disability Inclusion has long been an issue in the workplace even in pre-pandemic times. There are over 41 million members of the US population who identify as disabled, and approximately 12% of these are of working or employable age. Despite this untapped market of employment potential, historically disabled individuals have been underemployed. Even though the ADA requires businesses to make accommodations for such individuals, many offices still have physical barriers which would provide a hindrance to a disabled person seeking to work there. For example, a building may have a handicapped bathroom or elevator but could be located in an area difficult to maneuver for someone with mobility issues. In fact, due to their need for special accommodations, the physical work environment can be one of the biggest hurdles to overcome for the I/DD individual seeking employment. 

Flash forward to 2020 and many businesses who never dreamed of operating remotely were now transitioning completely into ‘teleworking.’ Although there were a few missteps and mishaps (Zoom mic fails and homeschooling) overall the switchover to remote working seemed positive. For those with disabilities, remote work offered the reprieve of ‘equalization’. Grievances like bathrooms, elevators, stairs, or the need for a part-time caregiver that would usually be an impediment in a traditional workspace or office, ceased to matter in a home environment. Working from home allowed the I/DD community to create a setup that best fit their individual needs and allowed them the opportunity for great success. 

Remote work isn’t just a boon for the I/DD community though, in fact, both businesses and their employees alike can benefit from the inclusion of a more diverse home workforce. Thanks to the pandemic, both HR and recruiters were forced to recognize the benefits of a home-based workforce. By not just relying on local talent, companies can expand their search to a greater talent pool (including those with disabilities) and hire the candidate best suited for the position. There are financial gains to be made too. According to the following research by Accenture companies that put an emphasis on disability inclusion report 28% higher revenue and 30% higher profit margins than those who do not. Furthermore, the I/DD individuals themselves bring their own special set of skills, knowledge, and resiliency to their roles allowing for a more diverse and equitable workplace. This diversity and the inclusion of disabled voices create greater involvement in both product development and innovation. 

As we make our way into a post-pandemic world it seems that remote work, or at the very least the ‘flexible working’ trend will be here to stay. As a fervent supporter of the I/DD community, K2 Escape remains optimistic that remote work may be the final push that encourages companies to wholeheartedly embrace disability inclusion. After all, a more diverse and varied workforce is a place in which both disabled and non-disabled individuals can thrive.


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