Hope for Disability Employment

Emily Blum
October 20, 2022

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, and for once in a long time, the state of disability employment is hopeful.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the labor force participation rate for disabled men and women ages 16-64 was 37.6%, up nearly five percentage points from April 2020. According to research by the Kessler Foundation and the University of New Hampshire, this employment-to-disabled population ratio is among the highest in history.

And it couldn’t come after a better time. People with disabilities experienced some of the worst job losses in the initial stages of the pandemic. After March 2020, disabled people experienced a 20% decline in employment compared with a 14% decline for those without a disability.

While the pandemic has devastated so many aspects of daily life, especially for those with disabilities, there has been one bright spot: the possibility and success of remote work. It took a worldwide pandemic to recognize what disabled people have known for a long time. Remote work can not only work, but it can also be highly productive and good for the bottom lines. As employers rushed to accommodate nearly everyone to work from home, flexible work options became the norm. Simply put, employers largely became better at supporting employees with disabilities.

Perhaps that’s why disabled workers aren’t participating in the Great Resignation at the same rate as non-disabled employees. A survey conducted by Adobe of 1,000 workers found that 77% of disabled workers felt their workplace has done a better job supporting them since the pandemic. And 70% of disabled workers feel like their employers provide adequate training around disability etiquette education.

Perhaps that’s also why employers are increasingly recognizing the benefits of disabled talent and actively seeking employees with disabilities. In Chicago, this was the impetus for creating the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities Career Center, a new workforce opportunity that matches people with disabilities to careers. Since its groundbreaking earlier this month, they’ve already supported nearly 70 disabled applicants in their search for meaningful employment.

There is much more to be done to align and improve employment opportunities for disabled workers. But one thing is for sure: don’t ignore the success disabled people have when work is flexible and accommodations are made.