A young woman in a wheelchair is remote working, having a virtual conversation via her smartphone.
Image: © DC Studio/Stock.adobe.com

Report suggests remote working can remove barriers for disabled workers

11 Nov 2021

Remote working can be beneficial for people with disabilities, but a new study warns that it is not a ‘fix’ in place of practical accommodations.

Creating a sense of connectedness among employees with disabilities is key for the success of remote working. That’s according to a new report released by Employers for Change, a recently launched information service in Ireland that is part of the non-profit Open Doors Initiative.

The report, The Future of Work and Disability – A Remote Opportunity, examines the impact of remote working on people with disabilities during Covid-19.

“It is clear from this research that providing an option to hybrid or remote work is more attractive for many disabled people and can remove barriers such as transport and/or allow for greater flexibility around working hours,” said Employers for Change director Christabelle Feeney.

The report was sponsored by Skillnet Ireland’s Positive2Work business network. It was authored by Maynooth University’s Joan O’Donnell, who collaborated with several employment and equality experts.

These included David Joyce, equality and development policy officer at the Irish Congress of Trade Unions; Alexis Goldfarb, senior diversity, equity and inclusion consultant at Northern Trust Corporation; and Julianne Duffy Gillen, young adult mentor with Chime, the national charity for deafness and hearing loss.

“This report brings the voices of employers and employees with disabilities together, to learn from the experience of working from home during Covid-19 about how best to make the most of this new emerging remote working opportunity,” O’Donnell said.

However, both O’Donnell and Feeney stressed that remote working should not become a way to silo people with disabilities.

“It is important to recognise that remote work does not necessarily offer a solution for inclusion and accessibility in the workplace. In other words, it is not a simple ‘fix’ for what in reality is a complex issue,” O’Donnell said.

Feeney added that it was important for remote working to “be presented as an option for the individual as opposed to a solution or alternative to providing accommodations”.

“Creating a sense of connectedness for disabled employees is key to the success of remote working,” she concluded.

Employees who participated in the study on remote working had mixed views. One said: “Remote working should be a reasonable accommodation for people with disabilities. Some people may not be in a position to physically go somewhere or commit to be somewhere because of their disability, for example chronic fatigue or being reliant on public transport.”

Another participant said that it actually “increased pressure to prove you could do as much work, if not more, from home just to prove that you could work from home.” They thought the pressure “was a barrier”.

Discrimination at work

A separate report on workplace equality released this week by Matrix Recruitment suggested that there has been an increase in discrimination in Irish workplaces.

According to the report, racism was a problem for half of Irish workers surveyed. Incidences of discrimination overall had increased by 20pc on last year despite many workplaces being shut for most of that time.

Out of 1,178 adults across many sectors who took part in the company’s latest survey, almost half (46pc) said they had experienced a form of discrimination, compared to 38pc in 2020.

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Blathnaid O’Dea
By Blathnaid O’Dea

Blathnaid O’Dea worked as a Careers reporter until 2024, coming from a background in the Humanities. She likes people, pranking, pictures of puffins – and apparently alliteration.

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