October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month! Throughout the past couple of years, COVID has had an impact on how employees with disabilities are able to work. Let’s take a deep dive into what those impacts are!
Barriers To Benefits
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2021, 43.7% of workers with disabilities reported barriers that hindered them from finding employment. A couple of these barriers included difficulty commuting to the job and lack of accessibility within the position. With more than 20 million people working from home since 2021, the importance of businesses understanding how to best accommodate their employees is necessary. Employers must realize that working from home may be the only option for people with certain disabilities.
Few knew how to prepare for a worldwide shutdown, and some businesses had to close indefinitely. Fast-forward to today and many companies/employees are thriving despite the changes! The employment rate for individuals with a disability has increased by 38% since. What key factor played a role in this sudden increase?
Here are just a few examples that explain the increase in employment for people with disabilities since COVID:
- Having accessible devices ready when needed (assistive talk, brighter screens, etc.)
- Personal control over the work environment
- No more commuting!
Tech giants such as Google, Apple, and Zoom have been changing the game regarding working from home. As a result, employees with disabilities can customize these platforms to meet their needs. Why is this important you may ask? This is important because assistive technology allows people with disabilities to independently work from home and do their job efficiently.
Google takes pride in developing and innovating software with accessibility in mind. For example, in 2021, Google enhanced its Chromebook experience with the Select-to-speak option. This allows the listener to hear what’s on the screen and highlight specific text that they would like spoken out loud to them. Now, those with vision impairments, dyslexia, or even learning another language can have an easier time digesting information in a more accessible way.
The tech industry has developed new ways in which those with disabilities can continue doing their jobs with excellence from home. For example, Apple has been paving the way for technological advancements since 1976. One way is allowing customers to control the display settings on their phones, watches, and computers. Users are given the option to enlarge any form of text, turn their phone’s camera into a magnifier, or adjust Voice Over to receive an audio description or braille output on any Apple device. Giving employees with disabilities the freedom to customize all of their devices instills the confidence needed to complete their work with excellence from the comfort of their homes.
Zoom is a brand that gained global recognition during the start of COVID. Their goal with accessibility is to create a platform where communication knows no borders! So how is it that a company that has been around since 2011 didn’t become widely known until 2019? It was their effort to make video calls accessible for everyone! Allowing their users to transcribe videos or customize audio notifications so they can hear important reminders over video chats are a few ways Zoom made communication available for everyone.
Having platforms that make it their goal to be part of the equity equation is a small perk of working from home for an employee with a disability.
For many, a comfortable work environment involves inspirational posters, but an accessible workspace requires much more. The above platforms are great tools, but some employees aren’t able to take advantage of some of the features with other workers nearby. For example, options such as assistive talk or flash/vibration notifications may become distractions for surrounding employees. However, this is not an issue for remote-only workers. An employee with a disability has the freedom to create the environment they need. This makes it easier to accomplish their work in a way that benefits them and the company.
A U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics study found that an estimated 13.4 million Americans have disabilities that make traveling outside the home difficult. The inconveniences and frustrations that come with commuting, such as missing the bus, are eliminated when jobs offer remote work.
Having the option for employees to work from home takes away the stress that everyday commutes can bring.
Part of the Equity Equation
It is important to raise awareness and educate ourselves and others on accessibility in the workplace. This is why the US Labor Department has chosen “Disability-Part of the Equity Equation” to be this year’s theme for National Disability Employment Awareness Month. The theme serves to remind us that “all workers, including workers with disabilities, have equal opportunity to gain skills and put them to work in inclusive, supportive workplaces going forward.” COVID has shed light on just how far we’ve come in accommodating those with disabilities to work in an accessible environment, and it has also shown us just how much we still have to learn.
This post was written by Braille Works