Three Lesser-Known Benefits of Hybrid Work for People With Disabilities
Remote work has been a boon for many employees, but it provides additional benefits for people with disabilities. In this post, A11iance Advocate Charles Hiser examines three lesser-known benefits of hybrid workforces.
Over the last two-plus years, COVID-19 has impacted all aspects of life, forcing many organizations to rethink how they structure teams and support employees.
One of the most notable changes has been the adoption — and continued support — of remote and hybrid workforces.
In a recent post, the NeuroLeadership Institute, which developed the SEEDS model to help combat and manage biases, explored five benefits of this culture shift.
In this post, I will examine three lesser-known benefits that disabled employees experience working from home.
1. More Control Over Work Environments
The environment one works in directly affects their productivity, and this is doubly true for disabled workers. If a work environment is not tailored to the needs of an individual, completing tasks can become unnecessarily difficult or even impossible.
For example, people who use wheelchairs may require extra space, prefer surfaces whose height can be adjusted, or use ramps and elevators to navigate buildings. Blind people can be picky about item placement and the organization of their space, so they can more easily locate objects later. And people with invisible disabilities that affect cognitive retention or their ability to focus may prefer specific color schemes and light levels, as well as an isolated workspace to reduce distractions.
Many of these accommodations will already be present in a disabled person’s home, whereas office environments will almost certainly not be designed with many of these needs in mind.
2. Interruptions of office culture are practically eliminated.
As I mentioned above, being in a space with fewer distractions can be wonderful for people with ADHD or Autism Spectrum Disorder. However, this advantage is not limited to those with neurodivergent brains.
People with hearing disabilities frequently rely on visual communication to interact with those around them, pulling much of their attention away from their work. If a cognitively impaired person is interrupted while struggling to understand a complicated workflow, they often have to start the process over. Finally, if a visually impaired person is called away while attempting to find a workaround to a digital accessibility block, any progress made could be undone by a timer.
Working from home gives people control over when they respond to co-workers, so they can take extra time to complete a task before moving on.
3. Commute Logistics Are Simplified
Traveling to and from the office is an adventure of its own, and this is especially true for people with disabilities. Before a commute can be safely undertaken, there may be additional steps to take. For example, blind people must take time to learn routes they can independently execute. Many people with physical disabilities must buy or adapt vehicles so they can drive, which can cost anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000 more than a regular car purchase.
Once someone has the equipment they need, the travel itself can cause additional challenges beyond the normal concerns of traffic and construction. For example, wheelchair users who drive will always need a large enough parking space to deboard their vehicle. If a person suffering from a condition that causes low energy gets stuck in traffic too long, they have to find a safe rest area to recharge and adjust their commute accordingly. People who cannot drive rely on public transportation or rideshare services, opening themselves to a host of ever-changing factors: buses can be late, drivers will refuse service animals, navigating a train platform can be challenging.
Any of these scenarios can not only lead to tardiness, but also add to cognitive load, affecting performance throughout the day. By eliminating this stress, hybrid work options have provided an unprecedented opportunity to every professional who struggles with aspects of transportation.
How To Make Remote Work Accessible for Everyone
Even as workers across the country make the slow migration back to the office, improvements in web hosting and telecommunications technology have made remote work a viable long-term option.
So how do businesses create virtual work environments that are accessible for people with disabilities?
It starts by investing in systems and tools that help close the gap for people who might need accommodations. For example, platforms like Zoom have invested heavily in auto-generated captions.
It’s also important to take stock of your internal resources and systems. Are your PDFs and training materials accessible to people who use screen readers? Do employees have access to assistive technologies — such as screen readers and voice recognition software — that help increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of people with disabilities?
This cultural shift has also opened the door to more diverse hiring practices by including those who face challenges in traditional office culture. By building a more diverse, inclusive workforce, businesses benefit from more perspectives, an increased talent pool, and the inherent innovation that people with disabilities bring to the table, developed by a lifetime of adapting to a normative world.
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