This year’s National Disability Employment Awareness Month
arrives at a precarious time in our country’s history: we continue to face the
ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic and one of the direst economic recessions in
recent memory. The coronavirus pandemic has caused more than 200,000 deaths and
infected more than 7 million people, while also creating immense challenges for
the American business community and workforce. Despite some signs that the
economy is beginning to pick back up again, the Bureau of Labor Statistics
still reports that more
than 11.5 million jobs were lost since the beginning of the pandemic

When you dig into the numbers, the research shows that this
recession has not been felt evenly across the labor force, and that
systematically marginalized communities—such as communities of color,
immigrants, women and others—have experienced higher unemployment than average.
Jobseekers with disabilities are among the groups that have been hit the
hardest. Research conducted by Global Disability Inclusion suggests that close
to 40% of people with disabilities were laid off or furloughed as a result of
the pandemic.

The struggles for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) to gain access to employment were already apparent: research indicates between 80 – 90% of people with IDD of working age were unemployed in the years leading up to 2020. This is the first of a two-part series that The Arc@Work will publish this month to speak on the new and emerging challenges faced by workers with IDD and how employers, disability services agencies, and individuals with IDD can work together on creating solutions that create inclusion and workplace equity.

Negative Impact and New Barriers for Job Seekers With

For jobseekers with IDD, the safety threat posed by the
coronavirus—coupled with pre-existing barriers to employment and a now
struggling national economy—creates compounding barriers that now make finding
a job in the community extremely difficult. Industries such as brick and mortar
retail, hospitality, and others that have historically been open to hiring
people with IDD have suffered tremendous losses. Many small businesses in the
community have shut down either temporarily or permanently.

  • Barriers in public transportation and ridesharing:
    Many individuals with disabilities—especially those living in urban or suburban
    settings—rely on public transportation to get to work. There are very few
    public transportation networks around the country that are fully accessible to
    people with disabilities, and this problem is only further compounded by the
    threat of contracting the coronavirus in transit.
  • Increased competition: Millions of
    work-eligible Americans are out of jobs and are competing for the same jobs as
    people with IDD, many of whom are first-time job seekers and risk being
    overlooked in favor of more experienced applicants. This means that the hourly
    jobs that were previously available to people with IDD have now become harder
    to obtain as the demand for jobs drastically outweighs the supply.
  • Disappearing supports: Many individuals
    with IDD require the support of direct support professionals and job coaches to
    live independently and be successful in their jobs. The pandemic has hit the
    disability services industry hard, where many agencies have either been forced
    to close or have cut staff.

In a
survey conducted by The Arc in May 2020
to gauge the effect of the pandemic
on our network of chapters and affiliates, 44% of our agencies reported having
to lay-off or furlough staff due to funding cuts. Nearly a third reported
having trouble hiring and retaining staff due to prevailing economic conditions
and fear of the virus.

  • One-size-fits-all approach to workplace
    Safety should not come at the cost of inclusion in the workplace.
    For some, abiding by COVID-19 safety protocols is difficult, especially as it
    relates to social distancing and using personal protective equipment (PPE).
    Many people with IDD have sensory difficulties that make it difficult to wear
    masks or gloves at all times, while others may have difficulties observing
    social distancing etiquette. This may impact an employee’s ability to interface
    with customers in person or be in the workplace at all.

Individuals with disabilities face these barriers—and
more—in their efforts to get back to work, but these are all challenges that
employers and disability services agencies can work together to solve. In the
next part of this two-part series, we will go over some of the things that
employers can do right now and in the future to support individuals with
IDD to overcome these challenges and return to work.

The post The Workplace in 2020: Getting People With Disabilities Back To Work Safely During COVID-19 appeared first on The Arc.