A tight labor market opens new doors for disabled workers

“Remote work and remote work options are something our community has been advocating for decades, and it’s a little frustrating that for decades corporate America said it’s too complicated, we’re going to lose productivity, and now it’s all of a sudden. of, sure, let’s do it,” said Charles-Edouard Catherine, director of corporate and government relations for the National Organization for the Disabled.

Still, he said the shift is a welcome one. For Mr. Catherine, who is blind, not having to commute to work means not coming home with cuts on his forehead and bruises on his leg. And for those with more severe mobility limitations, remote working is the only option.

Many employers are now scaling back remote work and encouraging or requiring employees to return to the office. But experts expect that remote and hybrid work will remain much more common and widely accepted than before the pandemic. This can make it easier for disabled workers to continue working remotely.

The pandemic could also reshape the legal landscape. In the past, employers often resisted offering remote work accommodation to disabled workers, and judges rarely required them to do so. But that may change as so many companies were able to adapt to remote work by 2020, said Arlene S. Kanter, director of the Disability Law and Policy Program at Syracuse University’s law school.

“If other people can show that they can do their jobs well at home, as they did during Covid, then people with disabilities, in terms of accommodation, should not be denied that right,” Ms Kanter said.

Ms. Kanter and other experts warn that not all people with disabilities want to work remotely. And many jobs cannot be done from home. A disproportionate share of workers with disabilities are employed in retail and other sectors where remote working is uncommon. Despite recent progress, people with disabilities are still much less likely to get a job and more likely to live in poverty than those without.

“When we say it’s historically high, it’s absolutely true, but we don’t want to send the wrong message and pat ourselves on the back,” said Mr. Catherine. “Because we’re still twice as likely to be unemployed and we’re still underpaid if we’re lucky enough to work.”

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