Penny Gould, Research On Disability / UNH - February 6, 2015
Comparing the employment data in the infographic above to a similar report from last September, it does look like more disabled people are getting into the job market … some actually getting jobs, others actively and intentionally looking for them. That’s good news.
I guess I’m part of the trend. After a year and a few months without paid work, I got a part-time job tutoring students in writing at a local community college. Right now it’s the perfect job for me, given my health and the state of my disability. You could say I am “under-employed”, but I am participating in the labor market and satisfied with my current situation.
Of course the big picture is that by every measure, employment for disabled people has been extremely very low for decades … probably for as long as anyone has bothered to collect statistics. What could possibly change those numbers dramatically? What could we do to bring “employment” and “labor-market participation” for people with disabilities up to, say, 50% or higher?
I used to think that the gold standard for disability employment was the traditional, 9-5, full-time job, in an office. I thought anything less, or anything less traditional, was a defeat or a cop-out. I still feel that way about sheltered workshops, “enclaves” (where all-disabled work crews go somewhere to do a job, basically in isolation), and businesses set up specifically to employ disabled people. In some cases, it feels like an important principle to stick to. In others, well, maybe it’s just a prejudice for me.
The thing is, I’m starting to think that the key to really moving the needle on employment for disabled people is to be open to a wider variety of work models. Part-time. Flexible schedules. Consulting. Working from home. Freelancing. Jobs crafted to fit a particular person’s abilities and talents. Seasonal employment. These kinds of models, coupled with firmer income support programs to fill in the gaps and self-adjust with the ups and downs of erratic employment, could make a real difference.
Which is not to say that anyone should assume that any of us has to work in some non-traditional setup, just because we have a disability. Plenty of us, maybe most of us, are fully capable of doing traditional full-time jobs The viability of “lesser” options should never be an excuse for relegating any of us to them if we want more. Also, non-traditional models need good policy development and vigilance, to make sure they don’t end up being exploitive.