This year, I accepted a position with the Utah Remote Online Initiative. This is a research-based certification course that helps give students the tools and resources they need to be a successful remote worker. The initiative was started as a way to improve employment outcomes and economic diversity in rural Utah by increasing remote work there. Previously I had worked for a state Vocational Rehabilitation agency for 11 years and I wondered if this career change would move me out of the disability employment space. Turns out, increasing remote work and increasing employment for people with disabilities intersects much more than I ever knew. Since October is Disability Employment Awareness month, let's explore this.
Remote work drastically improves employment possibilities for people with disabilities (PWD). Some PWD have opted out of work because their disability makes it too difficult to work on a work site or in an office. This may be due to the site causing problems for their disability (e.g. being immunocompromised, having flare ups caused by environmental issues, etc.) or due to disability-related transportation difficulties. Implementation of remote work by employers may also reduce the need for workplace accommodations, since many accommodations are related to worksite accessibility.
Why should employers care about hiring PWD? It's a good way to increase workplace diversity and to bring different perspectives to the team. Having a disability can make someone think about common issues in a new way and be resourceful, which is very useful in an employee.
Remote work also improves employment possibilities for people without disabilities: stay at home parents, people who live in rural towns, etc. Without remote work, a lot of people would simply not be in the workforce. Having them in the workforce helps the company they work for and the community they live in, but also benefits us as a whole. Employed people may have more income from being employed to support other businesses, and are paying income and Social Security taxes.
Numbers are tough to come by regarding the economic impact of hiring PWD into remote work, but we do have good statistics on the number of people with disabilities in the workforce, and this has risen significantly since 2020. The number of remote work positions added in the US has also risen during the same time. I can't prove causation, but the numbers for both have been rising at roughly the same rate, so it's easy to say there is at least a correlation between increasing remote work and increasing employment for people with disabilities. It has allowed people to work and be productive, which allows them to pay taxes, be less reliant on social programs, etc. It has benefitted employers by bringing in different perspectives and people who by nature are resourceful, who would otherwise not be a part of their team.
If you are an employer or a person interested in remote work, information about our program can be found here: remoteworkcertificate.com.