Remote work opens the talent pool to workers with disabilities

Companies create larger talent pools when they offer remote and flexible work arrangements, saving money on turnover and worker searches.
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· 4 min read

For workers with disabilities, remote work isn’t just a way to avoid a lengthy commute or a noisy office; it’s changed the landscape almost completely, recent anecdotal and statistical data has shown.

Remote work has opened a new door for employees with disabilities and companies alike, giving firms the opportunity to recruit from a wider pool of applicants, including people who previously weren’t able to come into an office every day.

While everything doesn’t need a business case to be a worthwhile consideration, remote work is also a win-win for companies, experts tell CFO Brew.

“People with disabilities have been asking to work remotely for 25 years, and they were always told no,” Thomas Foley, executive director at the National Disabilities Institute, told CFO Brew. “And then the pandemic happened and, all of a sudden, we all figured out how to work remotely.”

The rise of remote work removed barriers for workers with disabilities and, due to a tight labor market, “we’ve definitely seen many more employers interested in recruiting people with disabilities,” Foley told CFO Brew.

The data have backed up the anecdotal claims as well—a survey from the Kessler Foundation and the University of New Hampshire found that “the Covid-19 pandemic positively impacted the use of disability-related employment practices” by offering greater accommodation, whether through remote work, flexible work schedules, or job sharing.

Survey co-author Andrew Houtenville, professor of economics and research director at the University of New Hampshire Institute on Disability, noted that “while all workers benefited from the expansion of flexible work arrangements…many of these changes have been as effective—and in some instances, even more effective—for employees with disabilities.” The last time the survey was conducted was in 2017, and since then, the use of flexible work arrangements has more than doubled, the survey found.

Foley told CFO Brew that since employees with disabilities tend to stay at companies longer and in a remote environment that is accommodating to workers’ needs, there will be more opportunities for advancement as employers are able to create work environments that are more accommodating, which in turn helps foster workers’ career growth.

And employee retention is a key benefit for companies; voluntary employee turnover costs US businesses $1 trillion every year, according to Gallup. Additionally, the average cost to hire new employees can add up to one-half to two times the position’s salary.

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Figures from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics show an increase in disability employment. According to November jobs data, about 7.22 million people with disabilities ages 16–64 were employed in October, compared to 6.35 million in October 2021.

While flexible-work arrangements have made strides in changing the work environment for people with disabilities, it doesn’t mean that the playing field is level, Amanda Hahn, CMO at employment platform HireVue, told CFO Brew, especially for those with “invisible” disabilities.

“Remote work is a game changer for folks, very specifically [those] who have physical disabilities,” Hahn said. “But what we realized is actually, the growing need is to address this area of invisible disabilities,” such as autism.

Additionally, some of the boilerplate in job descriptions has created the impression that candidates with disabilities are ineligible to apply, Kelly Hermann, VP of accessibility, equity, and inclusion for the University of Phoenix, told CFO Brew.

For instance, many jobs list a weight-lifting requirement, Hermann said, which is rarely necessary. “I’ve never had to lift 20 pounds in my job…I’ve had job descriptions where it’s been included, though,” she said. That kind of wording leads to confusion, she added, which could potentially discourage a person with a disability from applying.

“So what’s the point of…putting that in there? Is that something where you’re trying to say, ‘Hey, this really legitimately is something you have to do. So therefore, we want you to be prepared for that, and we’re going to be prepared to make an accommodation for you?’ Or are you trying to say, ‘Don’t even bother applying, because if you can’t lift 20 pounds, that means you can’t do something else, and I kind of don’t want you on my staff.’”

It becomes a kind of unconscious bias, Hermann added, which is often talked about in terms of race, but can also apply to people with disabilities and “long-held myths and assumptions that we make about people who are different, and whether or not they can do something.”—KT

News built for finance pros

The latest news and insights corporate finance professionals need to know to keep up with their constantly evolving industry.