By Geri Stengel
Only 40% of adults in the United States with disabilities in their prime working years (ages 25-54) have a job, compared to 79% of all prime-age adults, according to the Brookings Institute, a nonprofit public policy organization dedicated to helping solve problems facing society. The conventional working environment can pose barriers to employment for people with disabilities. Liz Johnson, managing director and cofounder of The Ability People, a United-Kingdom based social enterprise, postulates that normalizing working from home opens the door to more people with disabilities to work. The company is a recruitment and consultancy firm that specializes in empowering people with disabilities.
Johnson was born with a form of cerebral palsy that paralyzed the right side of her body. She is a three-time Paralympic medalist — including gold in Beijing — media commentator, and expert on “disability inclusion” in the workplace. Her cofounder, Steve Carter, is a recruitment professional with more than 30 years of experience across the U.K., Ireland, Asia, and Australia.
They viewed the underemployment of people with disabilities from two different perspectives. She wanted to understand why the employment percentage has remained stubbornly low. He was frustrated that talent pools weren’t diverse enough. They thought that the recruitment industry’s model might be broken. However, they came to realize that it was a lack of understanding, education, and exposure that results in people making comfortable hiring choices and overlooking talent pools of difference. “Why is it that they [people with disabilities] have to go above and beyond or be extraordinary to get opportunities?” wondered Johnson.
People know that diversity and inclusion is not just the right thing to do. Diversity improves financial performance, sharpens problem-solving abilities, and enhances creativity and innovation. Lots of initiatives try to close the gap between men and women, whites and minorities, straight people and LGBTQ, and so on. However, by approaching each demographic separately, we pit one group against the other. “If we look at diversity and inclusion as a whole, we normalize difference as a whole, we push authentic inclusion,” said Johnson. Concentrate on looking for the best person for the role, not on meeting quotas. “Focus on inclusion and you’ll naturally get diversity,” said Johnson.
The 14-person Ability People team ranges in age from 24 to 55 years of age, from people with higher education degrees to those with none. The staff includes parents, people with no children, people with a variety of abilities, and different sexual orientations. Johnson and Carter looked for the best people and ended up with authentic inclusion.
With the majority of work now being done from home, managers are seeing that working from home is possible. Before the pandemic, it was difficult to understand how telecommuting would work, commented Johnson. A silver lining to the crisis is that managers see that working from home doesn’t have to be isolating and distracting. It can be efficient and strengthen culture. Managers are seeing how working from home makes work more accessible. Getting dressed and ready for work can be far more time consuming for people with disabilities, adding hours to their days. Commuting can be difficult, complicated, and, sometimes, even dangerous. Remote work alleviates these additional stressors.
Working from home isn’t just a great thing for people with disabilities; it’s good for working parents or people with care giving responsibilities. Working from a home office can be a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). People can design their work environment to suit their needs and dress in more comfortable clothing. This enables higher productivity and job satisfaction.
Originally posted on Forbes