Companies can help their bottom lines immensely by creating the infrastructure and policies that enable the Disabled to Shine
by William R. Dodson
Working remotely isn't just a perk for disabled staff, it's a way of working that can define, sustain, and even enrich lives. With about a quarter of all Americans disabled to some fashion, remote technology, the business processes, and the organizational policies that support it, can literally be life-changing for millions of people. Organizations are literally ignoring the collective brains and talent of people with skills, know-how, and abilities that could be instrumental in taking businesses "to the next level".
Wheel-chair-bound staff have found working from home a boon to their work and to their self-sufficiency. Remote work affords them the opportunity to operate in an environment that is more conducive to their working with fewer impediments than if they have to go into an office.
For millions of physically handicapped staff, the support organizations provide to make their work accessible and feasible ends at the ramp into the office buildings.
For instance, Ruby Jones lives with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a connective tissue disorder. She sometimes has to use a wheelchair or crutches to get around. The condition also causes fatigue. Remote technology enables her to work from bed.
Remote technology also enables Jennifer Aldrich to be able to work from bed and from the home office space she has created, which fulfills the requirements her condition imposes on her movements. Jennifer suffers from a chronic illness, symptoms of which involve her coming into close contact with people. Ultimately, though, all her work requires is the successful application of her enthusiasm, brains, and voice, all of which she's able to apply to her remote job until her heart is content.
Something most people do not know is that disabilities do not have to be immediately apparent to impact lives. For instance, Matthew Ramir finds it incredibly tiring to walk even short distances. He is a senior software developer in Chicago He finds it exhausting to navigate the seats of buses during commutes, and to negotiate stairs. "By the time I get home," he said,"I'm exhausted. I'm so thankful to just be able to lie flat in bed."
When the pandemic struck, he appreciated being able to work from home. Since he no longer had to commute, he was no longer exhausted by the time he reached the office. Instead, he could set his own work schedule, which included attending several physical therapy sessions each week. He dreaded the prospect of returning to the office to work, of playing out the same exhausting routine he had before the pandemic had sent the world into lockdown and remote work.
Individuals on the neurodiverse range of cognitive skills also benefit from remote technology, as well. People who experience Asperger's syndrome may find commutes extremely disturbing and disorienting. Software testing suits the Asperger's condition quite well.
According to an article in Harvard Business School Working Knowledge:
"These software consultants [with Asperger's syndrome] enjoy their work and are great at it. The testing process — checking and rechecking outcomes, documenting test plans, and maintaining follow-through — makes use of the high intelligence, precision-oriented skills, deep concentration, and patience that can be positive features sometimes accompanying ASD."
Most software development and testing occurs in the Cloud. Remote technology, then, affords those with Aspergers the technology to work in what feels to them a safe environment without having to leave their home for the hustle and bustle of commuter life.
Further, neurodiverse individuals are able to do what they do best; that is, they can focus with singular clarity on repetitive tasks that, in some instances, give them peace, comfort, and a sense of fulfillment.
While for many companies the accessibility they afford disabled individuals ends at the ramp outside the door of their building, there is much they can do in cyberspace, as well. WebAIM reported that nearly 100% of the web pages displayed by the top 1,300 websites in its 2020 study failed its automated review. Companies can start demonstrating their own inclusiveness of disabled staff by updating their own websites.
Disabled staff or even contractors are well-suited to lead or at least participate on teams charged with bringing their websites and apps up to federal standards. You can read more about the standards and the legal actions disabled Internet users are bringing against companies that disregard the regulations at the EmployDiversity Network.
Further, remote technology and supporting company policies can reduce the stigma of not being physically or cognitively equipped as other employees are. By consistently showing off their best results remotely, in-office staff can begin to understand and appreciate the amazing contributions of a group long marginalized individuals who technology is empowering.
William R. Dodson is a contributing editor at EmployDiversityNetwork.com. His latest book is Virtually International: How Remote Teams Can Harness the Energy, Talent, and Insights of Diverse Cultures (Emerald Publishing Group, September 2021).