According to a poll by researchers from the University of New Hampshire’s Institute on Disability and the Kessler Foundation, a non-profit organization in the United States that helps people with disabilities, more organizations are now making reasonable accommodations. This is due in part to businesses being forced to confront a new normal: an increase in employees facing long-term health issues related to COVID-19.
40% of those asked said they have supervised someone who experienced long-term physical or cognitive issues as a result of COVID-19. Furthermore, 78% of supervisors said their workplace established or changed how they provide accommodations as a result of the pandemic.
Data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that a record 5.9 million disabled men and women ages 16 to 64 were employed in October, up nearly 25% from February 2020, before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Remote work has enabled many disabled people to be a part of the workforce. After an accident in 2009, Beka Anardi didn’t think she would be able to work again. However, she now works full-time as a recruiter from her Bellevue, Washington, home. At home, she can easily use her wheelchair, avoid traveling and tend to her physical needs in the privacy of her own home.
I have been looking for work since 2019. I’ve been unsuccessful, despite filling out hundreds of applications. I was turned down from a position at a local gym as a receptionist because I couldn’t lift 30 lbs. I couldn’t get a job as a cashier at a local supermarket either. Cerebral Palsy prevents me from climbing stairs, and the timekeeping system is upstairs.
Due to my Cerebral Palsy, I have also been denied accommodations in the workplace. I require help with activities of daily living. I hire PCAs to help me with bathing, using the bathroom, and getting dressed, among other tasks. My request for this accommodation is always denied when I bring it up to prospective employers.
I applied for a job as a greeter at a steakhouse in 2019. I scheduled my interview, and I was excited. Unfortunately, the manager canceled my interview after I told her that I would need my PCA to help me with activities of daily living at work. Employers aren’t obligated to provide accommodations for personal needs. However, working full-time would be impossible without the support of a PCA. Non-disabled people aren’t usually expected to work without access to a bathroom. My care is also funded through Medicaid, and I must stay within the income limits to keep those services.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us that remote work is possible. Remote work, however, is just the beginning. Accomdations need to be personalized for every employee who needs them. No two employees are the same. I hope the pandemic also brings up conversations about how to make the workforce more accommodating of everyone, not just disabled individuals.
Heald, Melody. “’I Got Fired from My Job for Requiring Accommodations’: Worker Exposes Company HR for Not Accommodating Her for Her Disabilities.” The Daily Dot, The Daily Dot, 2 Oct. 2022, https://www.dailydot.com/irl/hr-exposed-not-accommodating-disabilities/.
“Personal Assistance in the Workplace.” Job Accommodation Network, Job Accommodation Network, https://askjan.org/topics/persassist.cfm.
Smith, Molly. “How to Make Workplaces More Accessible for Disabled People.” Bloomberg.com, Bloomberg, 21 Nov. 2022, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2022-11-21/how-to-make-workplaces-more-accessible-for-disabled-people.
Smith, Molly. “Disabled US Workers See Highest-Ever Employment Figures from Remote Work.” Bloomberg.com, Bloomberg, 3 Oct. 2022, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2022-10-03/disabled-us-workers-see-highest-ever-employment-figures-from-remote-work.
Yang, Mary. “Remote Work Opened Some Doors to Workers with Disabilities. but Others Remain Shut.” NPR, NPR, 21 Oct. 2022, https://www.npr.org/2022/10/21/1130371456/remote-work-opened-some-doors-to-workers-with-disabilities-but-others-remain-shu.