For most of us, the COVID pandemic has upended how we work. While some, unfortunately, were separated from their jobs, others were deemed essential or were able to shift to remote work. We often view changes due to COVID as a challenge we had to overcome or adapt to, but for some, this was an opportunity.
Over one million adult Marylanders have a disability (Center for Disease Control and Prevention, June 28, 2021), and of these million, 43 percent are employed (Cornell Disability Statistics, 2021, based on 2018 data, the latest available). That’s almost 450,000 employees with disabilities working in Maryland.
On a national level, adults with disabilities are more likely than those without disabilities to work in service occupations or material moving occupations (18% vs 15% in service occupations and15% vs 12% in material moving occupations in 2020 for those 16-64, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, February 24, 2021). While many other industries saw a reduction in workforce due to the pandemic, the service and material occupations were still in demand or even grew, which meant many individuals working with Jewish Community Services’ Employment Support Services remained employed or obtained employment during this time. While the world stayed home and worried about how to get essential items, our clients helped to maintain the supply chain and even extend it from store to door. And JCS job coaches supported them throughout.
In addition to the number of positions open, the availability of remote work and its enabling policies and infrastructure brought relief to many Marylanders with disabilities for whom accessibility in the workplace has long been an issue. Consider a person with mobility challenges and the ease of being able to work from home. Or someone with low vision who utilizes close captioning on video calls and software to read text out loud. Working from home allows those with disabilities to have more control over their work environment.
Additionally, some workers with disabilities enjoyed the anonymity of working remotely. For those with physical disabilities, they were in control of if and how they would like to disclose their disabilities to employers and colleagues. “Everywhere I go, my cane discloses my disability for me. But if I meet someone on the phone or on Zoom, I choose to disclose my disability or not and people can’t tell.” (CNN, “Remote work made life easier for many people with disabilities. They want the option to stay,” August 10, 2021)
As the world re-opens and we consider the future of how we work, let’s not forget the possibilities and opportunities we’ve discovered for employees of all abilities.
JCS is a comprehensive human services organization providing a broad range of services that meet the diverse, multi-dimensional needs of individuals and families throughout Central Maryland. To learn more, visit jcsbalt.org or call 410-466-9200.