May 2022 – Issue 6
Welcome to the sixth issue of the Disability Inclusive Employment Policy RRTC Newsletter.
Today’s unprecedented health, social, and economic challenges raised by the coronavirus pandemic require a retrospective, present-day, and prospective view of U.S. employment policy for individuals with disabilities. Over the next four years, the goal of the Rehabilitation Research and Training Center (RRTC) on “Disability Inclusive Employment Policy” (DIEP) will be to design and implement a series of studies that produce new data and evidence on policy levers to increase employment rates of persons with disabilities with the objective of informing current and future policy and program development. This project is a collaboration between Syracuse, Harvard, and Rutgers universities.
Invite others to receive this quarterly FREE newsletter to stay updated on the latest employment policy research related to advancing economic stability, and security for youth and adults with disabilities.
Disability Inclusive Employment Podcast Series Launches – “Let’s Get to Work: Reimagining Disability-Inclusive Employment Policy”
View the podcast series web page
Burton Blatt Institute at Syracuse University, in collaboration with leading economic and social policy researchers at Rutgers and Harvard Universities, invites you to listen to a podcast series “Let’s Get to Work: Reimagining Disability-Inclusive Employment Policy”.
“Let’s Get to Work!” features guests with unique knowledge and insights who share their perspective on public policies that are moving the momentum forward and holding progress back. Researchers from the three universities will share what they are learning about employment policies as part of the work of the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR)-funded Center on Disability Inclusive Employment Policy. Other guests from government and the business and disability communities will share their perspectives on ways to translate the latest trends and thinking to advance workforce development and employment policy that produces sustainable economic opportunity for individuals with disabilities.
“COVID has been a shock to the social fabric of society. It has forced a re-evaluation of work and accelerated employment trends that were already in the works” DIEP Primary Investigator Peter Blanck explained on our new podcast series. In the series, available at Podcast Series: Let’s Get to Work (disabilityinclusiveemployment.org/podcast-series/), six researchers, advocates, and policy makers talk about the “Future of work.” What does it mean and how will it affect the employment prospects of people with disabilities?
The pandemic hit people with disabilities especially hard, resulting in larger employment losses due to their greater prevalence of employment in certain industries and occupations such as construction and food services. However, recent data indicates that people with disabilities are recovering more quickly than those without disabilities and are participating in the workforce at higher than pre-COVID levels.
Has the COVID-19 pandemic created a “silver lining” for the disability community by motivating employers to create new policies and practices that make the workplace more inclusive? Or, will the “future of work” further exclude workers with disabilities? Given that people with disabilities are so diverse, the future could have different effects based on education level, type and severity of disability, age of onset, and other factors.
Below we provide a short overview of changes in work magnified by the pandemic and additional sources for more information:
- Listen to Peter Blanck provide an overview of the future of work and how it is likely to affect people with disabilities.
Technology: The discussions about the future work often focus on the role of technology. A long running concern going back centuries, is “technological unemployment.” This is the idea that, as technologies are developed, they destroy jobs and put people out of work. Studies of this over the past century by economists, have generally found that technology creates just as many or more jobs as it destroys. There may be dislocation, but it creates jobs in other areas. For example, the development of the car destroyed the buggy whip industry, but it created a lot of jobs for automobile workers. Increasingly, repetitive tasks are being done by machines, leaving humans with tasks that require creativity and judgment. This raises the importance of ensuring the people with disabilities have full access to higher education that will position them to advantage of the benefits that technology may bring us.
- Listen to Doug Kruse talk the benefits and risks of technological innovations and who will own the robots that will be taking our jobs.
Artificial Intelligence (AI): AI is often proclaimed as a solution to reducing hiring discrimination by reducing human judgement. However, research shows that algorithms and use of AI remain flawed in many respects and may lead to unfair outcomes in employment. On the other hand, AI-powered assistive technologies could be used to customize work environments and tasks to better meet the needs of individual workers with disabilities. In addition, AI could be used to identify and predict patterns of discrimination against workers with disabilities, which could help to prevent or mitigate such incidents.
- Read Harpur, Hyseni, & Blanck 2022 to learn about how concerns about AI are heightened during COVID-19 and its aftermath, due to widespread health-related data collection in the workplace that impacts worker privacy and employment opportunities
Precarious jobs: Even before the pandemic, we were more likely to move jobs and to have a shorter job tenure than ever before. New business models shifted more “non-standard” jobs where people work part-time, have temporary contracts, are self-employed, or working in the “gig economy.” People with disabilities are almost twice as likely to fall into those employment categories. On the one hand, these jobs offer flexibility people with disabilities might seek. On the other hand, evidence suggests that hourly, contingent, and lower-wage employees were more likely to be fired, furloughed, and suffer pandemic-related employment and economic harm. This may be due to discrimination, lack of accessible work environments, or lack of support from employers.
- Read Harpur and Blanck 2020 to learn more about gig work—typified by technologically-based, on-demand, independent contractor arrangements—for people with disabilities.
Telework: The ability to telework, which has long been advocated by but largely denied to many people with disabilities, has become mainstream. As a result, new opportunities have been opened for people with disabilities who may need or prefer telework. However, these opportunities will benefit people with disabilities only if workers with disabilities have the accommodations they need to effectively work remotely. There is also the risk that remote work will lead to less, rather than more, participation in the community of work.
- Listen to Taryn Williams talk about the need to include people with disabilities in the design of accessible technology to ensure that digital tools are accessible and people with disabilities can benefit from post pandemic work flexibilities.
- Read Shur, Ameri and Kruse who report that while many people with disabilities benefit from working from home, a disproportionate number work in service or blue-color jobs that are not “teleworkable.”
Racial reckoning. With a new focus on marginalized identities, we are beginning to address issues around racism, sexism and ableism together that affect people with multiple marginalized identities. This group may face discrimination based on more than one characteristic and need to contend with racism, sexism, and ableism. U.S. companies are making efforts to include people with disabilities, and who also have multiple intersectional identities, in their organization, at varying degrees of success.
Health, especially mental health: COVID has created great uncertainty in many people’s lives and exacerbated growing mental health challenges. Recognizing that mental health affects their employee’s productivity, absenteeism and job tenure, companies are enhancing the types of mental health supports they provide.
Interaction with public programs
The labor market is changing in ways that have great potential to expand opportunities for people with disabilities, but our public policies need to keep up with the changes.
- Listen to Nicole Maestas talk about how public policies like unemployment insurance, health insurance and disability benefits affect the employment of people with disabilities as employers begin to change the way they do business.
- Listen to Rebecca Cokely talk about how we need to remove asset limits in disability support programs and eliminate the subminimum wage in order to allow people with disabilities to take advantage of opportunities created by changes in the nature of work.
DISCLAIMER The contents of this newsletter were developed under a grant from the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR grant number 90RTEM0006). NIDILRR is a Center within the Administration for Community Living (ACL), Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The contents of this website do not necessarily represent the policy of NIDILRR, ACL, or HHS, and you should not assume endorsement by the Federal Government.”
The Burton Blatt Institute (“BBI”) at Syracuse University reaches around the globe in its efforts to advance the civic, economic, and social participation of people with disabilities. Through program development, research, and public policy guidance, BBI advances the full inclusion of people with disabilities. BBI builds on the legacy of Burton Blatt, a pioneering disability rights scholar. BBI has offices in Syracuse, NY; Washington, DC; Atlanta, GA; New York City, NY; and Lexington, KY. Learn More about BBI