Will Going Back to the Office Leave Disabled Employees Behind?

CW: Ableism

Last year, the Mayor of New York City, Eric Adams, reiterated his request for New Yorkers to go back to working in the office. He argued that remote employment is economically unsustainable. Additionally, Adams sees remote work as detrimental to low-income New Yorkers.

“In order for our economic — financial ecosystem, I should say — to function, we have to have human interaction,” Adams said at an economic development event at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. “It can’t be done from home. And if we do that, then we’re going to greatly impact low-wage workers.”

“You can’t stay home in your pajamas all day,” Adams continued. “That’s not who we are as a city. You need to be out, cross-pollinating ideas, interacting with humans. It is crucial. We are social creatures, and we must socialize to get the energy we need as a city.”

Disabled people enjoy socializing and being a part of their communities. However, we shouldn’t lose accommodations just because there is a push to return to work in person. Many disabled people are still taking precautions to ensure that they limit their exposure to COVID-19.

Taking precautions can be critical if you are disabled. COVID-19 was the top cause of death among people with intellectual disabilities, Cerebral Palsy, and Down syndrome in 2020, according to a study done by Syracuse University. As a woman with Cerebral Palsy, I worry about what could happen to me if I contract COVID-19.

Remote work has made employment more accessible for disabled people. Beka Anardi was paralyzed in 2009. She rejoined the workforce thanks to a remote recruiting job. She now works full-time from her home in Washington.

For me, the ability to work remotely permanently would be a tremendous asset. Working remotely would give me more independence. I’d be able to work in a setting where it was already accessible to me. If I worked from home, I wouldn’t have to deal with faulty elevators or inaccessible public restroom stalls. I wouldn’t have to worry about bad weather or unreliable transportation either.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found that 21.3 percent of disabled people were employed last year, up from 19.1 percent in 2021. This is the highest percentage ever recorded. Unfortunately, we are still more likely to be unemployed than non-disabled people. In fact, the unemployment rate for disabled people is still triple that of non-disabled people.

Now that more people are vaccinated and much of the world has gone back to normal, my biggest fear is that accommodations such as remote work, will no longer be available, even for those of us who could benefit from them. Before the pandemic, the world was less accessible to those with disabilities. The fact that I could go back to feeling left behind scares me.


Ceron, Ella. “Remote Work Helps Push Disabled Employment to a Record High of 21%. but the Gain Is Imperiled by Return to the Office Mandates.” Fortune, Fortune Media Group Holdings, 25 Feb. 2023, https://fortune.com/2023/02/24/remote-work-disabled-employment-record-high-remote-work-office-mandates/.

Lahut, Jake. “NYC Mayor Eric Adams Decries Remote Work: ‘You Can’t Stay Home in Your Pajamas All Day’.” Business Insider, Business Insider, 23 Feb. 2022, https://www.businessinsider.com/eric-adams-work-from-home-pajamas-quote-nyc-mayor-office-2022-2.

Landes, Scott D., et al. ‘COVID-19 Mortality Burden and Comorbidity Patterns among Decedents with and without Intellectual and Developmental Disability in the US’. Disability and Health Journal, vol. 15, no. 4, Oct. 2022, p. 101376, https://doi.org10.1016/j.dhjo.2022.101376.

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.

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