For disabled people the pandemic has been transformative, let’s keep it that way says Alex Louth from Logicalis.
If I were to ask you about diversity, would you mention disabled? The pandemic enforced an incidental period of disability inclusion. “Virtual living” unlocked aspects of society to millions of disabled and chronically ill people – from Zoom job interviews to streamed gigs to GP phone appointments.
The shift to remote working over the last 18 months has brought on new opportunities for those previously excluded from the workforce. Difficult everyday commutes – which often include train, bus or car journeys – and inaccessible office buildings were no longer anxieties.
“As non-disabled people eagerly anticipate the return to normal, we shouldn’t overlook how this could mean disabled people are once again excluded”
The world going online introduced a whole new richly talented group of people to the workforce, and as life slowly returns to its pre-pandemic state, it would be absurd to begin to alienate them once again.
Let’s not rush back to normal
According to figures from the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI), in 2016, only a third of the working age people with disabilities in Ireland indicated that their main economic status was employment – compared with two thirds of those without disabilities.
Moreover, in 2018, among EU-28 countries, Ireland had the fourth lowest employment rate among people with disabilities of working age (36%).
However, flexible working is one way to help address this problem and empower people with disabilities. Working parents and carers will also see the benefits of companies continuing with such schemes – be that the ability to avail of flexitime, part-time hours or job shares.
Commuting is the biggest barrier
As I previously mentioned, “virtual living” inadvertently transformed the way that disabled people live and work. One main difference is no longer having to travel to the office. Many must thoroughly plan train and bus journeys, while others have to extend their commutes to navigate the best route.
The frustrations don’t stop there either. Wheelchair-users often undertake extensive research into whether pathways can accommodate wheelchairs and have dropped curbs, if pavements are routinely blocked by parked cars and if buildings have ramps and lifts. That’s not to mention the limited capacity for wheelchair users on buses or trams.
Is technology the answer?
In the age of the ‘everywhere enterprise’, technology has been the foundation for its success. I know from personal experience that technology has allowed Logicalis to continue to prosper as a business. Despite our teams sometimes working thousands of miles apart, technology has allowed our business to continue to feel connected.
Technology has been a key enabler in creating an ‘office with a purpose’. The ‘new office’ no longer needs to be a physical space where everyone travels five days a week. Whilst a physical space away from home allows you to break away from your home environment, collaborative and assistive technologies are proving to be a game-changer.
The obvious hardware (a working laptop/computer, reliable Wi-Fi, and a smartphone) paired with cloud computing (offering storage, application management, data analysis, security, etc.), can help you recreate your office anywhere you want.
As non-disabled people eagerly anticipate the return to normal, we shouldn’t overlook how this could mean disabled people are once again excluded.
Despite the difficulties the pandemic has brought for us all, a silver lining was offered to the disabled communities. Ironically, it’s taken a pandemic to force employers to carry out this beneficial kind of remote and flexible working.