William M. Rodgers III and Lowell Ricketts at the St. Louis Fed:
People with a disability who are out of the U.S. labor force or unemployed represent a pool of up to 24.8 million potential workers from which employers could draw. Yet, those who want to work face a variety of structural and attitudinal barriers to gainful employment. As shown in the figure below, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities is more than double the rate for all workers.
The increased use of remote work and assistive technologies can reduce some of the barriers that make it harder for people with disabilities to participate in the job market. In fact, prior to the pandemic, a Bureau of Labor Statistics report showed that people with a disability are more likely to work at home.
In the report, the majority of those not working (79.0%) cited their own disability as a barrier to employment. Unemployed workers with a disability also cited a lack of education or training (12.2%), a lack of transportation (10.6%), or the need for special features at the job (9.9%).
There are other workplace factors that serve as drags for people with disabilities.
- Most disabilities are invisible, so this can lead to a narrow definition of disabilities that focuses on physical disabilities. Omitting other important factors such as mental health and neurodiversity limits the ability to make accommodations.
- Mask requirements disadvantage those who need to see the mouth to communicate.
- While accessibility efforts may focus on the physical workspace, the inaccessibility of an employer’s website may inhibit applicants at the outset of the talent pipeline.
- Relief and recovery packages at the federal level provided few employment-related resources to reduce the pre-pandemic barriers to work.
- Disabilities become more common as individuals age, and the workforce is getting older. The current structural barriers to work for those with disabilities may become more impactful.