The Rise In Telework During The Pandemic, An Opportunity For Accessibility And Inclusion

Debra RuhForbes Councils Member

Focusing on inclusion and diversity is more important than ever during a crisis like the Covid-19 pandemic.

Throughout the pandemic, many were forced to socially isolate and physically distance themselves in order to limit the spread of the pathogen. Nations went into an economic recession, and millions lost their jobs. We saw people unable to work, and businesses closed.

People who have disabilities faced and continue to face unique challenges during a time like this, including inequality of support and a lack of access to information and communication technology. Accessibility can improve the lives of millions of people who have disabilities. This current inequality requires governments, decision-makers and organizations to start accelerating a digital transformation and expand the range of services for people who have disabilities for accessibility and digital inclusion.

Luckily, some of those changes are happening, and with a rapid shift to remote work during the pandemic, teleworking made previously unviable jobs available to people who have disabilities. Emerging technology has played an essential role in the employment sector and workplace. The new use of technology for the social inclusion and employment of people who have disabilities opens new doors for those trying to make a living during the pandemic.

Further Needs And Technology

But even as remote work opens up opportunities for those who have disabilities, businesses still need to consider further workforce development strategies that include all workers. This requires them to look at and work on several issues such as information and communications technology (ICT) accessibility, adaptations on work routines, digital inclusion and assistive technologies to create and develop inclusion, diversity and equity (IDE) in the workplace.

Covid-19 illustrated the need to look at accessibility, work and inclusion through a disability lens; many are finally seeing a need to change the game. There are real prospects of creating a more equitable and empowered future of work for people who have disabilities, and my hope is that organizations take advantage of this moment.

New technologies, particularly emerging technologies such as augmented reality, virtual reality, the Internet of Things (IoT) solutions and artificial intelligence (AI), have further helped in creating a flexible work environment and changed our understanding of the balance between work duties and our life demands.

Some believe that the rapid and unplanned transition to remote work will lead to unfavorable and unsustainable growth due to a lack of preparation. Yet, I have witnessed how quickly many have adapted and how technology in employment will only accelerate as telework eventually becomes a vital part of the labor market.

Teleworking’s Effectiveness

Teleworking and working from home have become common things in today’s world. According to an analysis by the Becker Friedman Institute for Economics at the University of Chicago, 37% of U.S. jobs can be done at home. A two-year study by Great Places to Work supports this and found that employees were just as productive or even improved in productivity when working from home. The Friedman Institute also found that a lack of commute for many workers has saved billions of productivity hours worldwide over the past year and a half.

This major transformation in the future of work can be a great incentive to embed more inclusive practices, for it seems likely that remote work will become a permanent fixture of our businesses and economy. Organizations can lead digital transformation by providing accessible digital tools that facilitate communication between employers and employees.

For example, programs such as text-to-speech software, screen-readers, speech recognition software, magnifiers and other tools such as hearing aids or adaptations to vehicles can be included by organizations in their available tools for remote work. In fact, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) says “that telework/work at home may be a form of reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).”

Many leaders are getting behind the opportunities that telework offers, and the CEO of The Valuable 500, Caroline Casey, believes that more CEOs need “to include disability on their leadership agendas.”

One way to ensure people who have disabilities continue to have greater access to work environments is by integrating their voices in the design of accessible workplaces and developing inclusion policies, technology and infrastructure.

To help you create formal telework policies and resources, many states have created telework policies, guidelines and manuals to provide all employees with clarity on the expectations and procedures for remote work. For example, California has developed a Model Program template for state agencies to create formal telework programs.

Teleworking And Reasonable Accommodations

Many employers have realized the significant benefits of allowing employees to work at home and as a result, realize how this specifically provides more comprehensive options and opportunities for people who have disabilities.

We must all work together and not forget anyone. We need to build an inclusive workplace to reinforce bringing diversity to all levels of an organization. Everyone can bring their best to work while fostering inclusion and sustainability.

The Covid-19 pandemic has proven that inability to adapt can be disastrous, but at the same time, it has also confirmed that we can make a change. Employers can have an inclusive culture in the workplace during and after the pandemic, attracting and retaining the best talent available, which includes people who have disabilities groups.

I see flexible working as the future for all. In my view, if more companies adopt remote work, this will have a positive impact on supporting the economy and realizing the benefits of embracing disability employment.

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