Employers requiring workers with disabilities to return to the office should increase flexibility and regularly check in with these employees to make the transition as smooth as possible, says Farzeen Mawji, national practice leader in inclusion and diversity at Arthur J. Gallagher & Co.
Remote and hybrid working arrangements proved beneficial for many employees with disabilities as they were forced to work from home during the coronavirus pandemic, he notes. “Typically, in work-from-home environments, they have all the equipment and supports they need. They also don’t have to navigate a world that wasn’t designed for them. [This includes] transit and even workspaces and the sometimes lack of accessibility of those spaces. So [by eliminating those obstacles], many [employees with disabilities] have been able to work much more effectively and efficiently.”
There are more work opportunities for employees with disabilities as well. Organizations that used to consider it more difficult to accommodate employees with physical disabilities can now be more inclusive as they can work from their homes.
However, hybrid and remote working arrangements can also pose challenges, such as a lack of social interaction and socio-economic barriers, says Mawji, noting not all employees have access to high-speed internet or text-to-speech software at home.
If employers are requiring employees to return to the office, he suggests they ask workers with disabilities what they need to feel supported and if they have all the equipment they need. “One of the first things I always say is, if you want to support somebody, ask them how you can support them. It’s the only way to truly appreciate what’s going to work well for them.”
He also recommends organizations keep flexibility in mind and determine the most effective work schedules for all workers. “Figure out what the core set of hours looks like and offer some flexibility beyond that. Clear expectations should be established at the onset as well, so people can figure out what they need to do to support each other and make sure check in regularly.”