Add the disability gap to the long list of workforce disparities that we’re passionate about here at Werk. Like the gender pay gap and the generational talent gap, the disability gap is only exacerbated by lack of access to flexibility. But when flexibility is implemented—and in a structured way—these gaps start closing and inclusion starts improving.
Even with unemployment rates falling and companies reporting more difficulty filling jobs, the talent pool of people living with a disability or a chronic condition remains relatively untapped. The U.S. Census Bureau says 19 percent of Americans qualify as disabled—i.e. they experience limitations related to hearing, vision, cognition, mobility, and self-care, among others. And the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports 17.5 percent of people living with a disability and 16 or above were employed as of 2015. As Slate notes in its recent coverage of the disability gap, it's unclear what percentage of this group are able and wanting to work; but what is clear is that the current state of the workforce can make it challenging for anyone with a disability to hold or even attain a job.
For example, take Melissa Turner, a woman who was diagnosed with pudendal neuralgia last year. This little-known condition, which results from injury to the pelvic nerves, can make it extremely painful to sit or walk. At the time of her diagnosis, Turner was working as a document control administrator. But it became too painful for Turner to walk around her employer's large office building and to collect papers from multiple printers. Presumably encountering inflexibility at that workplace, Turner had to leave her job, and she tells Slate she doesn't think she'll be able to return. Now she's hoping to find a job in which she can work from home, i.e. a job with the Remote flexibility type.
A whole host of factors make finding and keeping a job difficult for Turner and others living with disabilities or chronic conditions. For one, many employers hold biases against these workers, thinking they might present more costs or burdens. In so doing, though, they close their minds to potential solutions—including flexibility policies like Remote or PartTime work—and ignore the talent and unique perspectives these would-be employees could offer. And even when they do tap this talent pool, companies often fail to provide assistive technologies some of these employees require to work productively and effectively.
In our survey of more than 1,500 white-collar professionals from an array of demographics and firmographics, 29 percent of respondents—and 33 percent of millennials—said their current workday structure makes it at least somewhat difficult to manage a physical condition or a chronic illness. As we note in that research paper, "The Future is Flexible: The Importance of Flexibility in the Modern Workplace," one-size-fits-all flexibility policies are insufficient to address the wide variety of employee needs. Remote is likely the flexibility type most commonly linked to people with disabilities or chronic conditions; but TimeShift could also prove invaluable, for example, to a person using a wheelchair who'd like to avoid the peak hours of public transit.
In these ways, structured flexibility can dramatically reduce the disability gap. There are so many reasons to support structured flexibility—for everyone—but inclusivity is one of the biggest. As we assert in our research paper, flexibility helps workplaces be inclusive of race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, disability status, socioeconomic status, and work style. Employees with access to flexibility are 20 percent likelier to feel their work environments foster diverse points of view, and have net promoter scores (eNPS) that are 48 points higher than those without access to flex. Those ideals of inclusion and diversity—and the statistics and experiences described above—just give us even more motivation to help everyone who wants to work feel empowered to do their best work.