Individuals with disabilities have been increasingly vulnerable during the Covid-19 pandemic.
New measures designed to help stop the spread of the virus led to broader acceptance among employers of remote working practices, a cultural shift that opened up employment opportunities to workers with disabilities who would have previously faced higher barriers to entry.
This is something the disability rights movement demanded years before Covid, and now two new studies confirm there’s been progress.
First, research undertaken by the Economic Innovation Group (EIG) using data from the Current Population Survey reveals that individuals with disabilities aged 25-54 were 3.5% more likely to be employed in Q2 2022 than pre-pandemic.
This figure is brought into sharp relief by the finding that workers without disabilities were 1.1% less likely to be employed then was the case before Covid-19.
Though the study suggests that the figure for individuals with disabilities is, partially, a result of national labor shortages leading to a robust labor market, an equally significant contributory factor has been an increased openness to remote working practices post-pandemic among employers.
Working from home has always been a vital accommodation to help people with disabilities, particularly those with mobility impairments, remain part of the workforce. However, hesitancy around how remote working might operate and a lack of experience of seeing it in practice among employers has traditionally been a barrier for workers with disabilities to have to overcome.
In many ways, Covid-19 super-charged and mainstreamed a shift of corporate mindsets in relation to remote work, and individuals with disabilities have been among the prime beneficiaries.
“The share of prime working-aged disabled individuals with a job is now the highest since at least the Great Recession, marking important progress; the evidence in this analysis suggests that a strong labor market is one important factor and the growth of remote work is another,” EIG chief economist, Adam Ozimek said in the study. “Both factors bode well for increasing employment opportunities for persons with disabilities in the long-run.”
The Economic Innovation Group’s analysis is further supported by research published last week by the Kessler Foundation comparing the workplaces of 2017 and 2022 in relation to disability inclusion from the perspective of supervisors.
The “2022 National Employment & Disability Survey” undertaken in conjunction with the University of New Hampshire Institute on Disability identified significant gains in recruiting, hiring, accommodating and retaining employees with disabilities.
According to the survey data, the use of flexible work arrangements has almost doubled since 2017 – with a majority of supervisors predicting that work-from-home options would remain an employment staple post-pandemic, and twice as many of the supervisors surveyed now have a dedicated central accommodations fund for employees with disabilities within their organization.
A key takeaway from these studies must be that the experiences of minority groups should never be solely viewed in silos.
Whether it be addressing the needs of smaller or larger diversity segments – there is always key relationships, interplay and learnings that remain relevant to the mainstream majority.
As the analysis from the Economic Innovation Group identified – remote working practices were already on the rise before 2019. This trend speaks to lifestyle changes across wider society and was by no means solely a disability inclusion initiative.
Nevertheless, when the pandemic struck, a significant body of evidence testified to remote work’s viability—emerging from historic use cases of employees with disabilities which, most likely, helped employers feel more confident about being able to make it work across the board.
Today, not being able to make it into the office every day simply isn’t the employment obstacle it used to be for countless roles, and in a modern, open, flexible and diverse society—it’s unlikely to ever be again.
by Gus Alexiou
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