How the Pandemic Changed Work Options for the Differently Abled
According to WorldBank.org, an estimated 1 billion people, or 15% of the world’s population, have a form of disability. Differently-abled individuals experience challenges that range from health to economic aspects.
The global pandemic that started in early 2020 brought on difficulties to the general population, but even more so with the differently-abled population.
For example, an individual with cerebral palsy and a compromised immune system will be more susceptible to the symptoms brought on by COVID-19. In addition, the lockdown restrictions meant that it became even harder for them to have access to food and health needs. Some people with disabilities have to employ home health aides or respite workers to assist them with everyday tasks like grocery shopping.
While the pandemic did exacerbate the difficulties that differently-abled people already face daily, it also opened a window for them to take on remote work opportunities, something that wasn’t widely available pre-COVID-19.
No preferential treatment
Differently-abled people have had fewer options for employment as compared to non-disabled individuals, especially before the novel coronavirus took over the world and lockdown measures were put into place. And even when they find employment, they still often face accessibility issues, not only when commuting to work, but also within their place of employment itself. Some workplaces simply aren’t designed for people with disabilities or only have accessibility options as an afterthought.
Aside from accessibility issues, people with disabilities have also faced scrutiny from their employers. For example, pre-COVID-19, if they requested for days to work from home, they were often denied because employers refused to give them preferential treatment. Even their requests for flexible scheduling so they can make it to their doctor’s appointments or medical treatments were often overlooked because employers would have to apply the option across the board, something that they weren’t prepared for. For certain, differently-abled individuals have heard every excuse imaginable for their requests to be rejected, from data security to technical issues.
It’s time for a change
Times have changed indeed since the pandemic began. The shift to businesses operating from home proved that remote work is not only possible, but in some cases, it has actually yielded more productive results. Stories abound of people with disabilities being denied the opportunity to work from home pre-pandemic, which flooded social media when it became clearer and clearer that remote work may be here to stay according to companies like Twitter.
That seems to be the direction that most companies in Canada are heading to. In a post-pandemic world, offices may not be entirely eradicated, but flexible work options will certainly be more commonplace. In fact, even before COVID-19, research revealed that almost 40% of jobs within Canada can be done remotely.
Advocacy for people with disabilities
Rick Hansen, a well-known advocate for people with disabilities, offers his perspective on how COVID-19 has made the traditional work environment more inclusive, and the changes have truly been evident. For example, since teleconferencing is a part of everyday vocabulary now, platforms like Microsoft Teams have recently launched its live caption feature which allows people with hearing challenges to keep up with meetings with less struggle.
Remote work opportunities also made it possible for people with disabilities to utilize options to make their home offices more customized to their needs. They can set up their computer systems to use features like magnification and specialized lighting to make their tasks easier.
In addition, flexible work hours mean differently-abled individuals can go to medical appointments and treatments without having to worry about missing time from work. They can easily make up for lost hours when needed if they do have to step out to fulfill other obligations.
Still, it’s a long road ahead for people with disabilities to have the same work opportunities as non-disabled people. But with pandemic-induced changes to the work environment, steps have been taken and we are heading into the right direction.