The impact of remote work is undeniable: Software like Zoom and Microsoft Teams has become a de facto conference room, employees have traded business suits for loungewear, and commuting time has shrunk to the few minutes it takes to boot up. But while the media has portrayed adapting to remote work as a new phenomenon, many people with disabilities — myself included — have understood and advocated for it for years.
I was born three months premature, and as such, have multiple disabilities. I have cerebral palsy as well as low vision. In my past career as a special education preschool teacher, I would be tired even before clocking in. Getting to the bus stop, waiting, and then walking were as much a job as my actual job. My cerebral palsy causes me to tire quickly, and the commute robbed me of the precious energy I knew was needed to wrangle young children all day.
Since 2013, I’ve been working from home as a freelance journalist. Not having to commute and being able to dictate my own terms have enabled me to be extremely productive, while accessible-tech features like increased text size make it easier for me to read, type, and see things like menu bars on-screen.
James Rath, a filmmaker and accessibility advocate who is blind, has had a similar experience, with remote work easing the stress associated with getting to an outside location. He calls the disability community “pioneers” of the work-at-home movement, even though now people without disabilities are finding it benefits them in countless other ways. Half of companies already or will soon require full-time, in-person work in the coming year, and research from the Society for Human Resource Management shows that 63% of workers think being required to work in an office doesn’t make sense when work can be done remotely.
“Companies across all industries need to be more attuned to their employees’ needs and desires and adjust accordingly,” says Rath. This is especially crucial for people with disabilities, including disabilities that may not be visible to their coworkers.