A Los Angeles Times article in this newspaper (“Left out of job market, people with disabilities benefit from COVID teleworking boom,” Dec. 17) pointed to a recent employment “boom” among persons with disabilities who could work remotely. Since the pandemic began, employment for this group reportedly jumped 25%, accompanied by a decline in joblessness from 12.3% in 2020 to 5.8% in 2022. The gains were attributed largely to a raging pandemic, a shortage of nondisabled workers and wider acceptance of remote work.

Although a recent Los Angeles Times article promotes teleworking for employees with disabilities, many – as nondisabled workers do – find it isolating and would rather be working alongside their colleagues in an office setting. Andrey_Popov/Shutterstock.com

The central question posed in the article was whether these employees could hold on to their gains in the face of a looming recession and employer pressures to return to the office. Considering the workers’ successes, one might ask why this question is being asked. Perhaps the job stability of employees with disabilities is more tenuous than we might think.

While these reported job gains are both laudable and encouraging, they apply to only one segment of the disability community and contrast sharply with our long-term history and continuing pattern of excluding people with disabilities from community employment.

The jobless rate for this group overall has consistently been double that of nondisabled individuals. In 2021, of all working-age people aged 16-64, fewer than 20% of people with disabilities were employed versus 64% of those considered nondisabled. A recent article in Forbes Magazine summed up the bleak picture, concluding that employment accessibility remains a continuing problem 30 years after the passage of the American with Disabilities Act because of an underlying, pervasive public attitude of ableism, or disability prejudice.

Based on our long history of employment exclusion and discrimination, it is understandable that there is some skepticism about the sustainability of the recent job gains. While we cannot control the effects of a looming recession, we can address the inaccurate beliefs and exclusionary mandates that cause disproportionate hardship and possible job loss for people with disabilities who are performing satisfactorily.

The ADA requires employers to offer “reasonable accommodations” to employees with disabilities enabling them to perform the “essential functions” of a specific job. Some employers still object to offering such accommodations, erroneously calling them too costly and burdensome. However, a survey funded by the Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy found that most workplace accommodations for employees with disabilities cost absolutely nothing to implement. For the remaining accommodations, the average cost was $500. Even when employers paid substantial ongoing costs for accommodations, most respondents were satisfied with the results.


In addition, researchers examining the effects of employing persons with disabilities have found that very positive outcomes accrue not only for the employees, but for their employers and the larger community. In one analysis of 39 peer-reviewed studies conducted between 1997 and 2017, the benefits of hiring people with disabilities included improvements in businesses profitability; employee retention; reliability; punctuality and loyalty, and improved company image. Other benefits included a heightened competitive advantage related to more diverse customers; customer loyalty and satisfaction; more innovation, and improved safety.

Employees themselves reported experiencing a more positive work environment; earning higher wages; being more self-confident; making friends, and having a sense of belonging.

Combating our continuing societal tendency to associate physical and behavioral differences with deficiency entails going beyond legal remedies. It requires individual and community willingness to challenge inaccurate beliefs and unjust practices and to see human variation as a normal aspect of societal life.

Working remotely is not for everyone and includes risks of its own, such as social isolation and loneliness. It is certainly not a solution for all individuals with disabilities, many of whom are highly employable but unable or unwilling to work remotely. The lesson to be drawn from this example of successful remote work is to recognize that current work settings were designed without workers with disabilities in mind, and that most jobs can be successfully done in a variety of different ways by many kinds of people. Hopefully, we do not need another pandemic to learn this lesson; to create more accessible and flexible work settings, and to expand the community pool of qualified workers.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.