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Updated on: Friday, November 19, 2021, 02:50 PM IST

WFH, remote work removes barriers, provides opportunities for disabled workers

Today's workforce is more open to having difficult conversations and accepting differences and wants to work with organizations that are inclusive. /Representative Photo |

Today's workforce is more open to having difficult conversations and accepting differences and wants to work with organizations that are inclusive. /Representative Photo |

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Lack of proper employment opportunities has been a long-standing problem across the world. This is more so with those with disabilities. As per a World Bank report, 15 percent of the world population experiences some form of disability, visible or invisible, and disability prevalence is higher for developing countries.

Barriers to social and economic inclusion of persons with disabilities include inaccessible physical environments and transportation, the unavailability of assistive devices and technologies, non-adapted means of communication, gaps in understanding of various disabilities and the accommodations needed by able-bodied persons, discriminatory prejudice, and stigma in society, lack of sensitivity and awareness.

The myths of physical disability limiting a person's potential are unfortunately deeply entrenched and still inherent in society. It comes as no shock that disabled people face discrimination and persecution in an employment situation.

However, in today's world where virtual and hybrid working models are changing the way of working, today's workforce is more open to having difficult conversations and accepting differences and wants to work with organizations that are inclusive. This situation can be addressed and is being addressed by various organizations in different parts of the world.

The importance of PWD employment

Contrary to the myth, people with disability are a very essential part of the workforce. As per a report by WHO, including PwD in the workforce has proven to not only enhance the work environment of the company but also its profitability levels. Naturally, having a diverse team allows varied perspectives to be a part of the decision-making process which increases the accuracy and scope of the decisions, thereby enhancing the results. Additionally, it works to strengthen inclusivity and diversity, which in turn boosts employee morale and productivity.

International frameworks on social development and human rights have committed to the inclusion of persons with disabilities as part of the "leaving no-one behind" 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. As ILO estimates have shown, if the employment of persons with disabilities, as a group, could be raised to the level of persons without disabilities, then economies could benefit from between three to seven percent increase of GDP.

National economy and PwD employment

The national economy is directly and majorly dependent on the active working force of the country. Naturally, the inclusion of PwD in the workforce of the country bolsters the availability of the national working pool and thus aids the domestic economy significantly.

Further, there exists a circular link between disability and poverty because of the restricted educational and employment opportunities available to people with disability. Including PwD in the workforce would also work to erase this link and thus help the national income and economy.

Underlying challenges

Despite the research, there is still the belief that people with disability are either underqualified or underproductive or might require too many accommodations and adjustments. This underlying assumption about people with disability being under-efficient, no matter how baseless, is at the root of the existing employment challenges that people in this segment of society face.

Another common challenge is the lack of basic amenities such as accessible washrooms, infrastructure, and technology suited for disabled people (for both visible and invisible disability) in office spaces. This scarcity of facilities leads to hinder the productivity and comfort of disabled employees and thus also hampers their chances of employment.

The third challenge is the mindset of managers and co-workers, where there might be an inherent hesitation, a feeling of pity and sympathy towards people with disability, more of tolerance rather than acceptance of their uniqueness and capabilities, and therefore the inability to accept them as co-workers and to be inclusive.

Way forward

If anything, empathy, inclusion, and equity are what the workforce of today are looking for in their employers. People are now increasingly becoming aware of and sensitive towards people that are different from themselves and not just the challenges that they face because of the differences, but also the capabilities that they bring to the table. Thus, disabled people, too, are gaining widespread empathy and acceptance in the employment market and the world in general.

This has led to both physical infrastructure and technological support being revisited to accommodate the special needs of these people. Even employers of today are more sensitive and open to having difficult conversations, driving inclusive cultures across functions and geographies.

The current hybrid and virtual way of working can be seen as an opportunity where many people with disability can continue to work from the comfort of their homes, without any location barriers, transportation challenges, and have full professional careers.

It will also require educating ourselves on what people with disability would need to enable them to be productive in their work. Some disabilities are visible. For instance, visual impairment, or locomotor disability, or dwarfism. But some disabilities are not visible, for instance, dyslexia, or other mental or cognitive disabilities. Each of these would require different accommodations, and enabling these people would require a joint effort by the manager, peers, HR, and the organization at large.

It is important to understand that their emotional needs are the same as that of any able-bodied employee. They too will be nervous on day 1. They too will need time to settle in. They too will need hand-holding. They, too, will have learning and career growth aspirations. Yet, what they want is empathy and understanding and not sympathy.

The misconceptions about disabled people being incapable of having productive careers or independent lives are fading swiftly in today's world. The evolving workforce is fast accepting and growing into the concepts of inclusivity for all. People have realized in recent times just how important it is for everyone to be included in the workforce for the betterment of individuals, companies, and the nations at large. With consistent efforts made towards spreading awareness, building inclusive workplaces, shifting mindsets, vision 2030 of leaving no one behind might just be a reality.

(Sonica Aron is Founder & Managing Partner, Marching Sheep)

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Published on: Friday, November 19, 2021, 02:50 PM IST
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