Disabilities and the E-Clusive Workspace

Disabilities and the E-Clusive Workspace

P. M.A. Baker (Center for Advanced Communications Policy (CACP), Georgia Institute of Technology, USA)
Copyright: © 2007 |Pages: 8
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-59140-789-8.ch061
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Abstract

The use and deployment of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in the public and private sectors has opened an array of options, best practices and implementation approaches for workplace (or workspace) operation. The increasingly widespread adoption of these ICTs, while often an efficient means of delivering services, encouraging communication, and facilitating transactions, still excludes sizeable portions of the population (Baker & Fairchild, 2005; Baker & Ward, 2005). Much of the focus of discussions on ICT adoption has assumed that patchy use of ICTs relates principally to socioeconomic variables. A consequence of these kinds of analyses is the omission, in formulating policies that seek to incorporate ICTs into the workplace, of a key group of people with functional limitations that go beyond relatively remediable conditions (e.g., economic, educational, location)—people with disabilities. Some 15 years after the 1990 implementation of the U.S. Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the employment rate of U.S. persons with disabilities is only about 30% (Weathers, 2005). This represents significant and underutilized resource and societal costs for unemployed persons with disabilities ranging from $78 billion to $200 billion annually (U.S. Census Bureau, 2000; Worksupports.com, 2000). A similar situation exists in Europe. Dupré and Karjalainen (2003) report that, according to the preliminary results of the “ad hoc module on employment of disabled people of the Spring 2002 round of the Labor Force Survey”, “78% of the severely disabled aged 16-64 are outside of the labor force as compared to 27% for those without” long-standing health problems or disabilities (p. 1). While policymakers generally recognize that the availability of ICTs allow telework to be a realistic work option and a reasonable workplace accommodation for people with disabilities, focused, comprehensive programs targeted at advancing these applications of ICTs for people with disabilities have yet to be developed. Aside from a few token programs such as the interagency website on teleworking, telework.gov, and a handful of laws “encouraging” telework, requiring reporting to the U.S. Congress or establishing telework coordinators (e.g., Public Law 108-447, § 622 (2004), Public Law 108-199, § 627 (2004) and Public Law 106-346, § 359 (2000)), little real attention seems paid to this work modality. A possible downside to the e-clusive “virtual workspace” is the potential for the inadvertent marginalization and stigmatization of people with disabilities from the employment community. While using ICTs facilitates may increase accessibility to employment and function as reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities, they may also act to decrease (or at least alter) the kinds of social networks that disabled people have within their occupations. This is an important consideration given that limitation of workplace contact (either in terms of degree or attenuation), can increase the likelihood that people with disabilities will occupy positions of inferior power (they will be more dependent) within the work environment. Such a restriction of power affects the ability to affect positive changes in the workplace. Moreover, as noted by Schur, Shields, Kruse, and Schriner (2002), voting “has been found to be strongly and positively related to … employment and union membership which can represent recruitment and mobilization networks” (p. 169). Thus, the failure to integrate people with disabilities into the workplace can also have a significant impact on their ability to exercise political power and influence. It is within this context that this article identifies some of the principal workplace accessibility issues faced by people with disabilities and discusses the use of teleworking as a reasonable workplace accommodation for people with disabilities.

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