2020 has been a calendar year that will live on in the history books for decades to come, and for many has been the most difficult year in recent memory. The crisis caused by the COVID-19 epidemic is one of the major factors contributing to this. The epidemic has created a need for rapid change for individuals, organizations, and companies across the entire world. Part of this change has been a swift move to remote work, with offices closing and employees either on quarantine or choosing to stay home.
One of the results of this shift to remote work has been a very quick and thorough adoption of new technologies and processes for accessibility and remote work. While many companies have already committed to creating an inclusive workplace and have begun implementing these new technologies, the pandemic has sped up this process exponentially — especially for those companies who had not yet started this process.
What does all of this mean for job seekers with disabilities?
The Rise of Virtual Recruiting and Remote Interviews
As a component of coping with the COVID-19 epidemic, recruiters have switched to virtual models, sometimes referred to as "virtual recruitment." Prior to the pandemic, this was much less common, with in-person interviews being the norm. Unfortunately, even with employers honoring reasonable accommodations and following accepted guidelines, this disproportionately affects persons with disabilities. For example, one study found that nearly 40% of job applicants with vision-related disabilities turned down jobs due to concerns with transportation.
However, with social distancing in place across most of the globe, in-person interviewing simply isn't feasible. This means that now — more than ever — employers have implemented technology to not only discover, but also to connect with applicants virtually.
For many persons with disabilities, this may be a welcome advancement. Rather than struggling with a prospective employer to set up a video interview, the process is now (for many employers) the new standard! It also means that recruiters are more actively seeking out and searching for applicants digitally, with more of a chance for your resume to be discovered by the perfect employer.
Work-From-Home Stigma Is Lifting
For many workers, whether they are persons with or without disabilities, have either heard of or have been exposed to the negative stigma around working from home (also known as WFH). Visions of employees in their pajamas and watching Netflix are one common stereotype. But seemingly overnight, the world has adopted a much different view of what it means to work from home, with many believing the stigma has been completely lifted.
For those who require or prefer working from home as a reasonable accommodation, this is a natural benefit; or, seen from a different angle, the removal of a potential barrier. Employers now realize that not only does working-from-home actually work, they also realize that it can even increase productivity for many employees. In a study by PWC, in fact, 44% of employers (the majority response) said that productivity increased during shelter-in-place initiatives.
Flexible Schedules Are Another "New Normal"
That same study also indicates that workers are likely to continue working remotely — at least part of the time — for the foreseeable future. For job seekers with disabilities that require or prefer this as a reasonable accommodation for performing their work, this shift represents another barrier to employment that is much less of a barrier in today's world.
Moving Beyond Bias
No matter how much we advance as a society, we are still human beings who must deal with the concept of bias, whether overt or subconscious. We've advised employers in the past on how to avoid this bias and focus on Ability when interviewing applicants. However, whether it is intentional or not, bias is still an obstacle that many job seekers with disabilities may continue to face, either in interviews or on the job.
One of the results of the shift to working from home and remote recruiting, though, is that biases are beginning to fall by the wayside. From another more matter-of-fact viewpoint, it could be said that biases are simply just less relevant today. For a remote position with a flexible schedule, for example, many questions that could have been asked in a job interview, such as transportation-related questions, no longer present an obstacle. Plus, with the "leveling of the playing field" caused by remote work, employers have quickly recognized that results are what matter — Ability matters — as opposed to other factors that may previously have caused conscious or unconscious bias.
The New Era of Accessibility
The end result of the massive shift to remote work and remote recruiting is that employers now have the ability to more easily interview, hire, and accommodate job applicants with disabilities. Employers are rethinking previous biases, the stigma that often surrounded working-from-home has been lifted, and flexible schedules are the norm.
Historically, job seekers with disabilities have faced many barriers to employment — but these cultural shifts are helping in many ways both large and small to break down these barriers.
If you're looking to find the perfect employer, remember that they are using online and remote tools now more than ever. There's perhaps no better time than now to add your resume and begin your search.