Telework Is an Opportunity for Americans, Including People with Disabilities

April 3, 2020 | By Carol Glazer, President, National Organization on Disability

Carol speaking at the 2019 NOD Annual Forum These days instead of coffee breaks at work — I take milk and cookie breaks.

That’s the preference of Jacob, my 27-year-old son who has physical and intellectual disabilities. When someone asks him how he likes having me working from home, he tends to grin and say, “I like it when my mom becomes a milk and cookies mom.”

Because of COVID-19, we are truly immersed in a forced experiment of telework: working from home by using electronic devices and Internet communications.

According to the Telework Research Institute, enabling employees to work from home half time, can save an employer $10,000 a year; and an employee $3,000 annually. It would also enable tens of thousands of people with disabilities to enter the workforce.

At the National Organization on Disability, we decided when the first warning signs began appearing in the news that we would all work remotely. While it’s brought some discomfort, especially to younger staff who live in small apartments, overall the quality of our communications and teamwork has dramatically improved.

This is something that people with disabilities have known for some time: with the proper work accommodations at home, employees can be successful. In some respects there is frustration as they see employees getting the kinds of tools and equipment they have said for years would allow them to be valuable assets to businesses.

We want to break down the barriers that separate the abilities and aspirations of the 57 million Americans with disabilities from the avenues of opportunity, achievement and fulfillment that come from productive employment.

Before the current economic slowdown, the employment-to-population ratio for working-age people with disabilities was historically high, yet it was only at 31 percent, against 75 percent for working-age people without disabilities. The gap is certain to get worse in the coming months since people with disabilities are the last hired and the first fired.

Not everyone has a job that they can pack up and take home with them, I feel fortunate I can telework with my dear colleagues.

We are learning lessons as a society because of this experience. I hope that one we continue to focus on is creating more avenues for people to work at home. I think about my own staff, some of whom have long commutes, take care of children or elderly parents. I also think about the brick and mortar cost of our office. We now are considering a work plan that makes telework a regular feature.

Because we have been forced to shift our workforce out of the office, I think companies will see the advantages for Americans working remotely, including people with disabilities, who thrive if simply given the opportunity.

Carol Glazer is President of the National Organization on Disability, the nation’s oldest civil rights organization representing all of America’s 57 million people with disabilities. She is a speaker and subject matter expert on issues regarding the employment of people with disabilities and has addressed audiences at national conferences, corporate forums and higher education institutions, among others. 

Carol holds a Master’s Degree in Public Policy from Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and in 2012, was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters by Allegheny College for her work on behalf of individuals with disabilities. She has two children, one of whom was born with hydrocephalus and has physical and intellectual disabilities.