Remote & Async Work 10 min

How offering remote jobs for disabled individuals can promote accessibility

July 22, 2020
Preston Wickersham

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People who may struggle to adapt to traditional working environments, even ones with the reasonable accommodations guaranteed by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and international disability laws, often find it easier to work from a home space where they have greater control over their environment.

That’s not to say that remote work is always easier for people with disabilities. Even with the rapidly increasing prevalence of remote jobs, many people with disabilities continue to face challenges at work. 

Companies with remote workforces can offer unique employment opportunities to people with disabilities around the world, but those same companies must recognize and address the challenges their employees face to create a more inclusive workplace.

This article covers the challenges that remote workers face and how your company can help people with disabilities overcome them. We also look at how you can create a more inclusive and accessible workplace.

What challenges do remote workers with disabilities face?

The same disabilities that affect workers in traditional workplaces affect remote workers as well. While the nature of remote work means that colleagues see one another less frequently, that does not mean people working remotely with disabilities no longer require accommodations.

Here’s a look at some challenges that remote workers with disabilities often experience.

Neurodivergent challenges

People with disabilities may have neurodivergent traits, meaning that their brain works differently from neurotypical brains.

For example, an autistic person could struggle with unique socio-technical issues when attending video meetings. They may miss nonverbal cues, like facial expressions, or struggle to understand the subtle nuances of social situations. This could lead to misunderstandings or confusion.

People who must make a deliberate effort to adapt to traditional social settings can experience burnout quickly when overstimulated. In a remote work environment, where social cues hide behind screens, those stresses become more complex.

Although much of the conversation on neurodiversity focuses on individuals with autism, they are far from the only ones in the neurodivergent category. By most common definitions, people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) fall under the umbrella term of neurodivergence, as do those with dyslexia and dyscalculia. These individuals often experience different challenges relating to remote work.

Physical disabilities

Remote work can make life easier for people with physical disabilities, but by no means does the ability to work remotely negate their experiences. Someone who uses a mobility aid may find it more comfortable to move around their home than to commute to a physical office, but not everyone has the resources to create a home office that is disability friendly. 

People with disabilities also make less, on average, than people without, so many have fewer resources available to create or move into spaces to suit their needs. In fact, workers with disabilities earn 42% less than their counterparts. They’re also 10% less likely to receive a raise.

Pay disparities aren’t the only issue, either. Over 30% of people with disabilities say they’ve faced discrimination related to their disability, which has partly contributed to their feeling less certain about their employment (and often resorting to side gigs for extra income).

Mental health challenges

People with anxiety, depression, and other mental health struggles frequently fall outside the accepted definition of neurodivergence. However, depression and anxiety meet the definition of psychiatric disabilities under the ADA in many cases.

Those who deal with issues of mental health can struggle with physical isolation, unstructured environments, and other challenges when working remotely. Now that the taboo around mental health has begun to lessen, employers must be ready to acknowledge and support employees who face psychiatric barriers.

Chronic conditions

People with chronic conditions, like chronic pain or Crohn’s disease, face challenges regarding both physical space and time. Individuals with these conditions may need to rest or use the bathroom more frequently, which is easier to do at home but can still make it difficult to keep a rigid schedule.

Unique obstacles while working remotely

No one who struggles with aspects of remote work life should be made to feel that remote work is a sufficient accommodation in itself. Physical, neurological, and mental disabilities as well as chronic conditions can still make life more difficult for remote workers.

Here are a few examples:

Challenges in setting up a home office

Allowing employees to work from home saves employers money on office space, but that burden often transfers to the employee. Workers with disabilities must furnish their own offices within their homes, and not all living spaces are made to accommodate workspaces. This is especially true for people who need more room to maneuver, like wheelchair users.

Website accessibility issues

Remote workers spend much of their time online. Although the ADA mandates website accessibility, most websites continue to prevent navigational challenges for people with certain disabilities. WebAIM discovered that a staggering 96.3% of the top 1 million home pages had accessibility issues.

The most common Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) issues cited include the following:

  • Low-contrast text (83.6%)

  • Missing alternative text for images (58.2%)

  • Empty links (50.1%)

  • Missing form input labels (45.9%)

  • Empty buttons (27.5%)

  • Missing document language (18.6%)

Accessibility issues like low-contrast text can make it difficult for people with poor vision to navigate a website and engage with digital content. This can affect their productivity, depending on their role.

Inclusion and communication challenges

The challenges in remote work common to all remote employees sometimes affect people with disabilities more significantly. For example, the “water cooler problem” describes the difficulties remote workers face to be included in casual conversations with colleagues and management.

These conversations, while frivolous on the surface, affect relationships, opportunities for promotion, and business decisions. Remote workers who don’t feel comfortable sharing their screen or who take frequent breaks to rest or use the restroom may miss out on important conversations, even when remote organizations make a point to facilitate casual banter.

These challenges all assume that remote work is an option, which is unfortunately not the case for many. Some people work in industries where remote work has yet to become the norm, even in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many companies still insist on physical offices and refuse to allow employees to work remotely. 

Google recently faced backlash for updating its hybrid work policy to factor in-person attendance into performance reviews. Other companies, like Amazon, Salesforce, and Meta, have followed suit and revised their policies to mandate that employees return to the office. People with disabilities who would prefer to work from home do not always have the option to do so.

Where to find remote jobs for disabled people

Remote work is an accessible option for people with disabilities to find employment. Here are a few resources for finding remote job postings:

  • Disability-specific job boards: Websites like Disability Job Exchange and abilityJOBS connect disabled workers with businesses, nonprofits, and government agencies.

  • Remote job boards: Most job boards provide filters to refine searches based on specific preferences and the option to set job alerts. This makes it easy for job seekers with disabilities to find remote jobs across various industries. 

  • Social media platforms: Social platforms, like Facebook and LinkedIn, are valuable resources that people with disabilities can use to find remote work opportunities.

Benefits of offering remote jobs to people with disabilities

Modern workplaces vary in terms of accessibility. While companies are doing a better job at creating more accessible environments than they have in the past, there’s still room for improvement. In fact, 17% of employees say their workplace isn’t accessible at all.  

Offering remote jobs can help you accommodate more people with disabilities. It can also benefit your company in the following ways:

Improved financial performance

Providing remote job options allows your company to open up opportunities for people with disabilities who may face barriers when seeking employment. This can open up a larger talent pool for your company and diversify your workforce.

A more diverse workforce means you get more unique contributions. For example, an employee with a disability can help make your products or services accessible to even more people.

Enhanced employee loyalty

Today’s workers increasingly prefer remote work. Two-thirds of employees would start looking for other jobs if working from home was no longer an option for them.

By offering remote work opportunities with flexible hours, employers can cater to these preferences and demonstrate their commitment to their employees’ well-being — both of which can foster employee loyalty and improve retention.

Potential tax savings

Programs like the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) offer a federal tax credit to employers who hire veterans, food stamp recipients, and other target groups, depending on their disability status.

Offering remote work options and hiring people with certain disabilities can help you create a more inclusive work environment and save on taxes.

How employers can welcome remote workers with disabilities

Here’s how your company can take a proactive approach to create a supportive and accessible environment that welcomes remote workers with disabilities:

Offer flexible working arrangements

The most obvious way for employers to make remote work easier for employees with disabilities is to offer remote work as an option for everyone. People with disabilities may feel called out or shamed for working remotely if no one else has the privilege. When companies embrace remote work as a general policy, people with disabilities do not feel forced to make a choice between appearing “normal” and prioritizing their well-being.

Start by outlining guidelines and procedures for both employees and managers. Clearly communicate those expectations and establish communication channels to ensure ongoing collaboration. Regularly assess and update your policy to ensure it remains effective.

Ensure adherence to ADA guidelines

Businesses should also work to ensure their internal systems and tools adhere to ADA guidelines. Accessibility issues can frustrate people with a wide range of disabilities. When people have trouble reading text, differentiating between images, and keeping up with conversations, they become understandably frustrated.

These changes don’t necessarily require new tools or code. A simple policy that makes it okay for people to leave their cameras off during meetings can make more people feel welcome. Actions speak loudly, so encourage everyone to take advantage of screenless meetings sometimes to ensure people who prefer the option don’t feel like outcasts.

Address the “water cooler issue”

Solving the “water cooler issue” is tough for any remote organization. At Remote, we host an all-hands meeting every day to ask a fun question and catch up on departmental progress (and we make it work in different time zones, too). Our hangout channels allow people to spend time together, video or not, while they work. We also prioritize documentation and recording so that people who miss meetings (even fun meetings) don’t feel left out.

Making remote employment work for everyone

The ADA and disability accommodation laws around the world provide the foundation for remote organizations to welcome workers with disabilities, but truly inclusive companies don’t stop at the bare minimum. Remote work has already begun to reshape collaboration and community. Organizations must take care to ensure workers with disabilities feel just as welcome to join the remote work movement as everyone else.

If you plan to offer remote work opportunities, we’d love to help. Our complete payroll, benefits, taxes, and compliance solution guarantees compliance with local labor laws, including laws regarding disability accommodations. We also make sure that your employees receive a superior experience working for your company no matter what their individual situations may be. 

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