Telework: Ensuring Inclusion During COVID-19 & Beyond

By Elise Gurney

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the percentage of Americans who work remotely has increased from roughly 15% to 50%. The transition to telework has required everyone to adjust, but it has posed unique challenges for some people with disabilities. On December 17th, The Council of State Governments’ (CSG) National Conference session, “Telework: Adapting to the COVID-19 Economy”  explored these challenges, and showcased strategies that state governments, local governments, and the private sector are using to accommodate employees with disabilities amid new telework conditions and beyond. The session also premiered CSG and the State Exchange on Employment & Disability’s new report “Disability-Inclusive Telework for States“.

Well-developed telework programs can benefit people with disabilities, employers, and the economy. In particular, they can facilitate employment for some people with disabilities, by eliminating difficult commutes or workplace barriers. They can also help states hire more individuals with disabilities, thereby advancing State as Model Employer goals. Yet states, local governments, and employers must first address the current barriers that some employees with disabilities may be facing as the result of the transition to telework, including around receiving reasonable accommodations and accessing technology platforms.

State governments have employed various strategies for increasing the inclusion of people with disabilities in current telework (both within the state workforce, and among other employers in the state). This includes auditing state agency information technology (IT) platforms to ensure that they are inclusive and accessible, as counseled by the Texas Department of Information Resources; advising employers on how to provide reasonable accommodations during the pandemic, as with guidance issued by Colorado’s Governor Jared Polis; and making assistive technology available to teleworkers, including through Montana’s Telework Assistance Grants.

The session focused on not only overcoming the short-term challenges of telework, but also building the long-term infrastructure for more inclusive and accessible telework programs. The webinar took place on Thursday, December 17 from 2pm-4pm ET. You can find the sesssion transcript and video here: https://csg-org.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZAocOuorz0rE9VbgkVxRfnyXOoglAqSZlV_

The report, “Disability-Inclusive Telework for States,” which premiered during the session, also provides guidance to state policymakers on developing more inclusive telework policies and programs. It includes an overview of workplace protections under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) pertaining to telework; details the components of state telework programs; and indicates how each component can be modified to better accommodate all employees, including those with disabilities). The document also offers best practices for advancing inclusion in telework policies and programs and summarizes the fiscal impacts of inclusive telework.

About the session participants:

Moderator:

Dr. Aaron Bangor is the Lead Accessible Technology Architect at AT&T, and is currently Chair of the Texas Governor’s Committee on People with Disabilities. He has dedicated his career to enhancing technology accessibility, and has pursued this mission through a variety of private and public sector roles.

Panelists:

Martha Jackson is Assistant Commissioner of Employment and Business Relations for the New York City Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities, where she works with other city agencies to ensure that New York City programs and policies address the needs of people with disabilities.

Becky Kekula is Director of Disability:IN’s Disability Equality Index (DEI), a national benchmarking tool that helps companies build roadmaps toward disability inclusion and equality. Becky is a passionate advocate for diversity and inclusion on a global scale, helping to advance inclusion in schools, the workplace, and in the media.

John Pavao is the State Diversity Program Coordinator for Montana’s Human Resources Division, where he provides leadership and direction to Montana state government in the areas of equal opportunity policy and program development, the Americans with Disabilities Act, affirmative action, and diversity.

Bobby Silverstein is a nationally-recognized attorney who has spent over 30 years advancing public policy to improve the lives of people with disabilities. He is considered the “behind-the-scenes architect” of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and, as Legislative Counsel to the State Exchange on Employment & Disability, has recently written a brief on state telework policies as they pertain to people with disabilities.

Kathy Tran is a Delegate to the Virginia House of Delegates, representing Virginia’s 42nd District. She has passed legislation to expand access to healthcare, improve worker’s rights, and make Virginia more welcoming and inclusive. She previously served as a civil servant with the U.S. Department of Labor and as an advocate with the National Immigration Forum.

This session is organized by the State Exchange on Employment & Disability (SEED), an initiative of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP). In partnership with organizations like The Council of State Governments (CSG) and the Workforce Development Council of the United States Conference of Mayors, SEED helps state and local governments develop and implement meaningful policies and practices that lead to increased employment opportunities for people with disabilities and a stronger, more inclusive workforce and economy.