Return to Office Pressure Often Ignores Those with Disabilities

I’m surprised that there isn’t more of an uproar about how discriminatory return-to-office mandates can be for certain populations. I was reminded of this recently when I read an excellent article by Katie Johnston in the Boston Globe titled For some workers thriving remotely, returning to the office can reignite old inequities. In it, she highlighted Peter Cronis, an older gentleman who was born with severe scoliosis and a disorder that twists his body into what he describes as a pretzel: “No part is where it should be.”

Confined to a wheelchair, he’s been commuting around greater Boston for roughly 35 years using a van service. Working remotely because of the pandemic has been a godsend. According to Cronis, his long, meandering commute was “a pain in the neck” that challenged his body and his ability to show up on time. Fortunately, he recently learned he could continue working from home permanently, a decision that has caused him to delay retirement because he can now sleep a little later and prolong the use of a BiPap machine that helps him breathe and gives him more energy throughout the day.

At i4cp, we’ve trumpeted the opportunities to tap into the hidden talent pool of those with disabilities and have chronicled the high unemployment rate of certain segments of this population. Many companies have recognized this largely untapped population and taken advantage of it. However, within the existing workforce, most don’t even know who has a disability, since it’s been reported that over half of those with disabilities don’t tell their manager.

Remote work has been a distinct benefit to those with disabilities, but it also has positively affected certain ethnic populations, those with anxieties, and others who find the workplace daunting for a variety of reasons. As the Globe article so eloquently outlined:

“For a number of employees who have embraced working remotely during the pandemic, the reluctance to go back to the office goes far beyond the hassle of battling traffic or giving up newfound autonomy. Being at home means not having to hear insensitive comments about the smell of ethnic food in the microwave or the intricacies of a new hairstyle. Not having to navigate public transportation in a wheelchair. Not struggling to maintain a sense of normalcy when anxiety sets in.”

As you witness return-to-office edicts and new policies, ask the question: if people are our greatest asset, how does this benefit all the people in our organization?

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