The pandemic has had a significant impact on employment for people with disabilities all over the world, but pre-pandemic, Ireland already had a significant issue around employment levels for people with disabilities.
According to the European Commission Country Report for Ireland 2020, “the employment rate of people with disabilities (32.2% in 2017) increased 6 PPS compared to 2016, but remains well below the EU average (50.6%).” Under this bracket, there was an almost 8% difference between the rates of employment for men and women.
According to FastCompany.com, in the US the unemployment rate for the disabled community reached 12.3% in 2020 – double the national average of 6.2% during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Despite these statistics, the benefits of hiring people with disabilities can be significant.
Diversity is a significant contributor to business success. With a variety of experiences comes a variety of ideas, leading to better products and outcomes. Including people with a disability in teams allows for products and services that may otherwise be designed without this group in mind to be developed, increasing the target market significantly.
It can also boost revenue through advertising. As of the last census, one in ten people in Ireland under the age of 45 had a disability. This rose to one in five people under 60. Though not all disabilities are visible, by this standard, every 1-2 in 10 people seeing an advert may be questioning whether a product is suitable for them because they are not openly represented. Through the inclusion of people with a disability in advertising a company is expressing to a wider audience that their product is for them, and businesses can reap the benefits of increased custom.
While adapting to working from home has become the new normal for many people over the past 12 months, those with a disability have been adapting to environments that differ from the boiler-plate standard office environment for far longer. Through adaptive software and alternative communication techniques, people with disabilities have more experience than most with technology that assists in overcoming barriers associated with distance and communication.
Big tech has taken notice. Some of the largest software companies have been working on features that improve screen and voice reader technology (Google Hangouts Meets allows for live captions, Slack has developed sophisticated navigation options that integrate with screen readers) which has made inclusion in the workforce even easier.
While the above arguments largely cover the benefits to business, they are not the whole point. People with a disability are unfairly limited in their access to employment. When an individual applies for a job, regardless of whether they have a disability, they do so with the knowledge of their own skills and abilities. Widening the business mindset towards active inclusion doesn’t just add value to a product or service, it provides income to a community that has a higher-than-average risk of poverty while accessing a workforce with enormous potential.
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