Supporting Remote Work for Employees with Disabilities

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A grid of people working from their homes

A grid of people working from their homes

The second of three tip sheets in the “ACE It!” series from AccessATE and DeafTEC discusses facilitating good communication for students with disabilities as they join the workforce. An important, closely-related topic is how to talk about issues for new employees or interns who may need to work remotely.

Supporting employees with disabilities who work remotely has been put to the test during the pandemic, as a significant number of people moved to working from home over the last year. One positive outcome of this has been that it has become evident that supporting remote work for those with disabilities is not as difficult, expensive, or inconvenient as some may have thought. Below we will discuss methods for supporting employees and interns with disabilities when they are working remotely.

Tip Sheet: Communicate with Employees with Disabilities

It’s important to note that much of what employers do to support workers with disabilities in the office also applies to supporting them remotely. Open discussions are critical and asking new employees and interns what works for them is a cornerstone to successful support, whether remote or in person. But there are many ideas and issues to consider – for example, something as simple as allowing for a flexible schedule can make a world of difference for an employee with disabilities like chronic pain or mobility issues, or anything that might require access to medical care. On the other hand, providing more structured work hours may be better for employees with autism, ADHD, or anxiety disorders. Just like in the office, the employer may need to provide special equipment or software, or an interpreter. All of the usual accommodations for employees with disabilities in the office may also apply to the work-from-home environment.

Still, there are some additional things to consider when supporting remote work for an employee with disabilities. A number of chat services and collaborative software, such as Slack and Microsoft Teams, have become popular. However, before settling on any one option, the employer should consider the accessibility of these tools, as not all are as easy to use as one might expect. When emails and chat feel insufficient (or everyone is simply tired of them), video call platforms like Zoom have become popular alternatives, but AbilityNet’s Ten Tech Hacks to Help Disabled People Work From Home reminds us that employers must still remember to provide captioning when needed. Some employees may need resources for structuring their physical work-from-home space, or additional assistance keeping organized and staying on task throughout the day. Other employees with disabilities working from home may require extra clarity in communication – more than they needed in the office when they are working with team members face-to-face.

Finally, it’s important for the employer to understand that working remotely can cause additional stress or disruptions to work habits, especially for people with disabilities. The Viscardi Center’s 5 Ways to Support Remote Workers with Disabilities advises employers to check in on their employees’ wellbeing regularly, enforce worktime boundaries, and provide opportunities for social interaction. Additionally, employers might consider scheduled breaks, reminders for breaks, or otherwise encouraging regular breaks using methods like the Pomodoro technique.

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