Embracing Remote Work
Working from home was not unheard of but also not commonplace in the U.S. before this pandemic. Remote work is not viable for all types of jobs, of course, but there are large segments for which it is suitable and is currently being successfully implemented. Working remotely is sometimes the only option for participating in the workforce for people whose disability leaves them homebound or they have an illness that limits contact with others. For those who are more mobile, moving to be near an office location is not always an option either because it can interrupt critical aspects like being near family and caregivers, access to specialized medical facilities, resources for children with disabilities, just to name a few. Even if a person can and desires to travel to an office during the week, many people with disabilities rely on public transit. Thus, even when (or if) schedules and routes increase, there is going to be significant reluctance to rely on these enclosed spaces for fear of contracting the virus, especially among people with underlying conditions.
The benefits of remote work are clear but can only be accomplished successfully with accessible software tools (as in WCAG-compliant). This includes any VPN to access internal networks, video conferencing software, and group chat tools. Vendors are responsible for this and should be made accountable, but procurers can also ensure they are considering accessibility in choosing their workplace systems. One easy but important step is to check for a company’s accessibility statement to evaluate if they have even considered any type of relevant compliance (that is, literally search the product name plus “accessibility”). From there you can compare the results – such as Slack’s “multi-year” statement to achieve accessibility vs. Microsoft Teams’ how-to guide for maximizing the accessibility already in the product.
An additional and broader aspect of embracing a new remote work culture is removing the stigma. Don’t assume everyone is mobile, can drive, and is able to be in an office – but also don’t assume any of those qualities speak to a person’s capabilities and worth. Workers without disabilities should be using their voices in this space – make your companies explain why remote work is not allowed, push back on non-remote job postings, advocate for the people who have for too long been kept out of the workplace. Thousands of people are currently making remote work happen; with the right accessible tools and company culture, even more people with disabilities can join in.