DIEP RRTC

Episode 15: Unraveling Disability Employment Statistics: Impact of COVID

The numbers demonstrate the extraordinary impact the COVID-19-induced shift to expanded telework had on the employment opportunities for people with disabilities, but even those don’t tell the complete story regarding what remote work means for disability employment.  It is a situation reflective of the gains prospective employees with disabilities experienced because of the pandemic and the parallel economic recession, Ari Ne’eman, doctoral candidate in health policy at Harvard University, says in this episode. The overnight shift to remote work for much of the general workforce because of the pandemic has made it more difficult for employers to argue that physical presence in the workplace is an essential component in job duties, Ne’eman points out, and this is the essence of how disability employment has benefited from remote work. That deconstruction of the perceived importance of physical presence in the workplace needs to be normalized, Ne’eman says.

However, the need for workplaces to be more flexible is a microcosm of the larger economic and social changes disabled people need implemented in greater society, Ne’eman says.  One of the things he points to is the need for reform of the Supplemental Security Insurance program, which categorizes people, particularly when it comes to employment, into two rigid categories: nondisabled and disabled. He says that changes are necessary in order for people with disabilities to have opportunities to contribute to the economy. One recommendation he highlights is a more universal partial disability option, which is currently only available to disabled veterans and allows disabled people to receive benefits scaled in proportion to their level of impairment.

Whether it is the disability benefits system, the employment of people with disabilities, or both, reform is needed, Ne’eman says. But it’s not simple. The diversity of disability makes policy decisions complicated, he says, but research about disability and the lived experiences of people with disabilities provide a valuable foundation and even “fairly straightforward” policy guidance to help begin those conversations.

Ari Ne’eman
Ari Ne’eman
PhD candidate in Health Policy at Harvard University
Michael Morris
Michael Morris
Podcast Moderator, Burton Blatt Institute, Syracuse University

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