It’s no secret that employment levels within the disabled community are less than stellar. Flexibility makes all the difference.
In 2021, people who reported having at least one disability made up nearly 6 million lives within the total U.S. workforce, an increase of about 600,000 from 2020. That sounds like a decent amount, right?
It does, until you realize that accounts for just under 20% of the disabled community. By comparison, over 60% of the commonly-labeled “bodily-abled” workforce was employed in 2021.
While there are many reasons why a person with a disability might not be active in the workforce, the pandemic has shined a light on one reason that can—and should—be addressed: workplace flexibility.
Prior to 2020, my husband had one of those big fancy corporate jobs at one of those big fancy tech companies. For almost five years, he worked hard and was making a name for himself within the company.
He was poised to “make it big,” as they say.
After dealing with an unknown condition since 2010, his health began to deteriorate—fast. He tried to do his job, he wanted to do his job, but was often shamed for asking to work from home, or for wanting to work a modified schedule. If he asked for time off to deal with his health, he’d get the “death glare.” We’ve all seen it.
The daily struggle with his health combined with trying to do a job with an unsupportive manager made his stress level skyrocket, which only led to a further deterioration of his health.
For those of us in the disabled community, this type of exclusive, toxic behavior from an employer is altogether too common.
Finally, in early 2020, just as the pandemic was shutting the world down, he decided he had to step away from his role and went on a medical leave of absence. He hoped to spend the next year trying to figure out what was wrong with him and, hopefully, find out how to fix it, or at least manage it.
Alas, after a year, he still had no answers and his health was, well, to say “not good” would be a massive understatement. He had no choice but to quit.
The good news is that, today, he’s doing better, though he’s still not back to 100%.
Despite that, his desire to go back to work remains. The obstacle now is… how does he find an employer who would be willing to work with the wonky schedule his condition has forced him into?
For many employees (and candidates) with disabilities, this is a problem they’ve run into more than once.
Maybe making it into the office every day is just too much, especially when life gets extra stressful. Maybe their condition doesn’t like it when they get up early for those 7 a.m. meetings. Maybe all those meetings really could have been an email. (Those in the neurodivergent community know what I’m talking about!)
Like so many in the disabled community, my husband has opted for the route of self-employment, as it allows him to work whenever and wherever he is able. No, he’s not making that big fancy corporate paycheck anymore, but he’s contributing to the world, and that makes him feel better about himself. He talks about the possibility of trying to find another job but isn’t particularly optimistic about finding an employer who would offer him the level of flexibility that he needs daily.
He might be right, but it’s quickly becoming clear that the pandemic has changed the way we do work.
And for people with disabilities, those changes— working from home (or really, anywhere) and/or flexibility in work hours, and so on—is a game-changer to manage personal health and thrive in life.
But for the game to change, employers must take note and take action.
The pandemic has showed that working from anywhere has not, in fact, reduced productivity, but radically improved it. As more companies become more willing to allow people to set their own schedules— within reason, of course— more people have been able to bring a semblance of balance to their work and life—and for the disabled, this is huge.
So, the next time you need to fill a role, don’t disregard the person with a disability. Having a disability doesn’t make them unable, rather, there’s a lot of talent waiting to be tapped into. It just means that you might have to embrace the new ways of working.
And, if we’ve learned nothing else from the pandemic, haven’t we at least learned that?