How the pandemic could open more job opportunities for Americans with disabilities

Posted at 5:34 AM, Apr 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-15 05:34:47-04

(WXYZ) — The pandemic has hit millions of Americans hard. Unemployment is still higher than before the pandemic, and one of the groups still struggling are Americans with disabilities.

The unemployment rate for disabled Americans was 12.6% in 2020 - more than 5% higher from 2019 and the highest in 7 years. That number was even higher for women at 13%.

Younger adults with disabilities between the ages of 20-24 had an unemployment rate of 21%.

But, changes to the workforce could change that. The switch to work from home could benefit disabled Michiganders and help them rebound - earning a paycheck and building up their self-esteem.

Accessibility to job opportunities has long been a challenge for Americans with disabilities. It’s been a barrier to 27-year-old artist and Lego enthusiast William Dash from Clinton Township. As a person with a disability, Dash doesn’t drive.

That means William can only apply to jobs near public transportation routes and open during hours when public transportation can take him there.

But the work from home culture – fueled by the pandemic – is expanding possibilities.

"I think that this opportunity for remote work has really opened up the door for more participants like William," Rene Dell, the senior director of rehabilitation for JVS Human Services, said.

She says the chance to work remotely solves a lot of challenges for people with disabilities.

"You have access to your medication, a lot of times your home is equipped with all of the assistive devices that you might need to be more successful in your job," she added.

Dell said the company found that job seekers are able to keep their focus on their abilities and their skills, and avoid putting the focus on their challenges.

There will be more help on the way. The American Rescue Plan allocates almost $13 billion for Americans with disabilities through home and community-based services. Some of that money will help pay for internet, transportation upgrades, and job coaches and personal care help to assist with bathing and dress and help set them up for the day.

But matching Michiganders with disabilities with employers isn’t a one-way street. Dell says employers get someone willing to work hard and who takes pride in working.

"When we're able to remove the barriers to employment success it really does become a win, win situation for all involved," Dell said.

"If someone is smart enough to hire William dash what are they lucky enough to get?" I asked.

"I'm someone who's really detail-oriented, creative outlet box thinker," Dash said.

Dash is looking for that win-win situation. The Oakland University grad is interviewing for a work-from-home job as an associate with a Fortune 500 company. The opportunity isn’t just about a paycheck. For William and so many others like him, it’s about independence and dignity, and a permanent full-time job will be a relief for William.

"The best way I can probably describe it is fresh rain, after a long drought," he said.

Job interviews are changing too. More employers are using so-called one-way interviews where applicants receive questions and record themselves answering those questions.

That was the first step in William’s process.

That’s opening up more opportunities for job seekers with disabilities.

The impact of remote work could also change the conversation around complying with the Americans with disabilities act and whether work from home arrangements could be considered a reasonable accommodation

After all, tens of millions of Americans will be working from today.

Additional Coronavirus information and resources:

View a global coronavirus tracker with data from Johns Hopkins University.

See complete coverage on our Coronavirus Continuing Coverage page.

Visit our The Rebound Detroit, a place where we are working to help people impacted financially from the coronavirus. We have all the information on everything available to help you through this crisis and how to access it.