COVID-19 and its impact on workers with disabilities
No matter how much we try to fake it, this new “normal” will never be normal; it’s just an eye-opening time that has revealed so many truths to us. Beginning roughly in February, countries around the world have gone on a series of lockdowns.
At first, we were all sure that our temporary sacrifices were going to ensure our safety and health. Don’t get me wrong, the “Stay at Home and Save the World” and the “Sending You a Virtual Hug” messages were cute during the first few weeks. Even China’s aggressive “This Year a House Visit, Next Year a Grave Visit” message served as an incentive to stay at home. Well, now we’re approaching the end of the year, and we're still on our computers for hours at a time for work, doing homework, sitting in classes and attending online events.
This new reality has helped us discover and accept that working from home is possible. It has also increased awareness among workers with disabilities that organizations could have done a better job accommodating their needs before the beginning of the pandemic.
This pandemic has opened our eyes to many remote work opportunities that weren’t previously available. Now that we have to work from home because it’s safer, we realize that remote working does not necessarily impact our productivity. In fact, a recent study conducted by Mercer, an HR and workplace benefits consulting team, found that 94% of 800 surveyed employers said that productivity was the same as or higher than it was before the pandemic, even with their employees working from home.
Unfortunately, disabled people are discriminated against when it comes to being hired for jobs that managers and HR people believe they are incapable of doing. This sudden change of work methods frustrated some people with disabilities, while it gave a sense of hope to others.
There's a 20% increased chance that workers with disabilities are more likely to work from home, but less than 33% of them are employed. Unfortunately, according to data collected by the Census Bureau, if more jobs offered work-from-home accommodations, significantly more people with disabilities would be employed; and by more, I mean millions. Little do employers know that the more they accommodate their disabled workers' needs, the more loyalty they'd create. In fact, disabled workers who strongly agree that their employers are making adequate accommodations are twice as likely to stay with their employers for at least 10 years, than workers who don’t feel supported.
Some have assumed that this “work from home” wave is the time for people with disabilities to thrive within the workforce. Though it may be true that our current circumstances are a great opportunity for the disabled community, it is worth noting that when this pandemic hit, employers let go “1 in 5 workers with disabilities versus 1 in 7 of their able-bodied peers. Nearly one million jobs have been lost in the disabled community." Disabled people get discriminated against even when their abilities and quality of work from home compared to their co-workers will be the same.
In addition to discrimination in the workforce, people with disabilities have also been experiencing increases in mental health issues, such as anxiety and feelings of loneliness. On top of that, many run into healthcare issues or financial hardships.
For all the employers out there, keep in mind what this community is going through. Though you may never be able to relate, it can be helpful to do your homework and figure out how you can contribute to the solution.
Keep these tactics in mind: take time to listen to your employees because accessibility to them can be simpler than you think, make diversity and inclusion (that includes disabilities) a priority, grasp some of the workplace systems we’re having during this pandemic and make them permanent (e.g., offsite work and services that support those who are more vulnerable). Employers can do more than they think to support the disabled community in the workforce; it’s a matter of making it a primary concern.
Something must be done. When this pandemic is over, the same work-from-home accommodations we have now need to be given to those who aren’t physically able to go to work. In addition, everyone’s situation is different. Disabled or not, check on your friends and family and do your best to provide support.
By Tim’mya Cook
Tim’mya is a senior at San Diego State University studying Public Relations. She is currently exploring opportunities related to entertainment and fashion in the PR world. Following graduation, she hopes to work in the fashion or entertainment industry.