Many Disabled Workers Have Encountered Work Difficulties due to COVID-19 | EAPA-SA

For the first time the global working population has learned what it is like to be denied access to their usual range of activities and suffer restricted access in their world of work.  As communities and businesses adapt during the pandemic, we can learn a lot from the disabled community on navigating life remotely and improving accessibility.

Definition of disability

Disability can mean very different things to different people. The United Nations definition of disability is as follows: “The term “persons with disabilities” is used to apply to all persons with disabilities, including those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which, in interaction with various attitudinal and environmental barriers, hinders their full and effective participation in society on an equal footing.

  • Traditionally, physical disability is divided into six categories: visual, hearing, ambulatory, cognitive, self-care and independent living.
  • The modern, social definition of disability states:  Disability resides in the society not in the person. 

“The modern, social definition of disability states: Disability resides in the society not in the person.”

Disabled persons face many barriers in the world of work

People who have a disability face numerous challenges in the world of work. First off, the disabled population faces several barriers to entry when it comes to finding work including that not all employers provide the necessary accommodations.  Once employed, for many people with disabilities, their ability to be successful rests on having access to services and support that can help them acclimatise to the job. Various workplace issues depend on each specific disability, a simple example is a workplace not having sufficient wheelchair accessibility, and most people who have disabilities also face discrimination because of their co-workers’ attitudes.

“For many workers with disabilities, working from home using technology has been both a relief and a struggle…”

COVID-19 has further compounded this situation

For many workers with disabilities, working from home using technology has been both a relief and a struggle, because technology still has a long way to go toward being inclusive and has introduced its own set of challenges for disabled people, primarily stemming from this lack of inclusive design. For example, while most employees have been adjusting using video-conferencing platforms from home, deaf or hard-of-hearing employees have been worried about not being able to participate at all during the meetings and have had to advocate for access. For some disabled people, though, having ease of access to the workplace coupled with a newfound ability to work from home has expanded the opportunity to work and contribute more comfortably.

Supporting job accessibility for the disabled

When planning for continued operations in the post-pandemic world, organisations can consider these tips to support inclusion and accessibility for disabled employees:

  • Listen to your employees to understand their unique needs.

    Your employees are the experts on their abilities. Sometimes making the workplace accessible is really simple.

  • Build diversity inclusion into systems, policies and procedures for reopening

    . This includes making sure that remote meeting technologies support all employees and do not only rely on visual or auditory elements. Provide resources to support navigating software technologies such as live transcription software or other access requirements.

  • Adapt employee benefits.

    Businesses that have expanded benefits to support their disabled employees who have worked remotely over the coronavirus pandemic, like offering prioritised delivery for high-risk employees, should consider continuing those benefits.

  • Train managers and employees.

    Having a supportive supervisor or colleague, who understands they may have some challenges and assists with working through them, will enable the employee to feel more comfortable asking for assistance when they need it.

Employers and employees alike are all undergoing a difficult period of stress, grief, and rapid change during this difficult time. Employers can use what they learn from this experience to create more inclusive, empathetic, and supportive workplaces for disabled employees, to be better prepared to assimilate this valuable sector of the workforce into their organisations.


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