What people with disabilities can teach others about working from home

Work Wisdom

What people with disabilities can teach others about working from home

If you’re one of the millions of people struggling to adjust to working from home, maybe it’s crossed your mind how much more challenging it must be for those living with disabilities.

Turns out, many of our differently abled colleagues are waaay ahead of us when it comes to adjusting to the “new normal.”

“Adaptability is a skill set disabled people have always had to foster,” said Ken Shapiro, a knowledge management consultant for Unum.

And Shapiro should know. A stroke 10 years ago left him with limited mobility and the use of only one arm and hand. In addition to his full-time job, he helps drive the company’s Ability employee resource group, an employee-led coalition that provides support to Unum employees with disabilities and caregivers.

Here are 3 ways you can use differently abled insights to work smarter from home.


  1. Plug in and plug along.

Take advantage of technology to work more efficiently. “Much of the technology available has universal value,” Shapiro said. “It can help workers with or without disabilities.”

For example, Shapiro uses speech recognition software because it’s often faster than keying in an email or document with one hand. Closed captioning capabilities in some web-conferencing programs help the hearing impaired — or those in noisy environments. Visually impaired workers can take advantage of a screen reader such as JAWS or a magnifying screen.


  1. Make your workspace work.

Those who use a wheelchair may find working at home actually improves accessibility, since their homes are likely already adapted to make navigating easier. Making our homes function as well as our offices might be more challenging for many of us. Take time to set up a comfortable, effective workspace to ensure you continue to be as effective and productive as possible during this time.


  1. Connect with empathy.

The Ability employee resource group also uses the valuable perspectives of having a disability to better serve customers. Now, all workers are gaining a little of that insight.

“This situation helps us better understand our customers, who are often socially and physically isolated,” Shapiro said. “We’re all getting a taste of that now. It gives us an opportunity to tap into our empathy for our claimant customers and help bridge that isolation.”

Make an extra effort to stay connected with your team, and keep feelings of isolation at bay by taking time for virtual visits with family or co-workers. Try a lunch “hang out,” coffee chat or virtual happy hour using meeting software.

“With the proper work accommodations at home, employees can be successful, said Carol Glazer, National Organization on Disability president, in a recent blog. “Because we have been forced to shift our workforce out of the office, I think companies will see the advantages for Americans working remotely, including people with disabilities.”

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