Access to Flexible Work Arrangements for People With Disabilities: An Australian Study

Access to Flexible Work Arrangements for People With Disabilities: An Australian Study

Rachelle Bosua (Open University of the Netherlands, The Netherlands) and Marianne Gloet (The University of Melbourne, Australia)
Copyright: © 2021 |Pages: 28
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-4159-3.ch006
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Abstract

People with disabilities face unique challenges accessing and participating in work. From a digital inclusion perspective, an uptake of anywhere working arrangements may hold significant promise for people with disabilities. This qualitative study explored barriers of flexible work for people with disabilities in Australia. The study focused on manager and worker perspectives and findings indicate that both parties face unique challenges to accommodate people with disabilities in flexible work. Barriers encountered by disabled workers seeking access to flexible working arrangements include management attitudes, physical and infrastructure problems, social isolation misconceptions, insufficient flexible work opportunities, and inadequate management knowledge of IT support and reasonable adjustment for people with disabilities. Management issues involve cultural intolerance towards diversity and disability in general, as well as lack of policies and processes that create a supportive environment for people with disabilities who wish to engage in flexible working arrangements.
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Introduction

Over the last two decades, the work environment has changed significantly as a result of rapid digital transformation, the adoption of digital platforms, and the increase in new Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) that support and facilitate work. Modern forms of work have become more flexible, increasingly more mobile, less structured and no longer restricted to a specific workplace or office location. Also, virtual teamwork has become a norm in the contemporary business environment bringing about radical change to organizational design that can draw on a dispersed multicultural workforce (Morley, Cromican, and Folan, 2015; Walsh, 2019). Apart from these changes, workplaces have become more inclusive towards a diverse workforce, which includes people with disabilities (Kulkarni, Boehm, & Basu, 2016; Meacham, Cavanagh, Shaw, & Bartram, 2017). These changes can be directly attributed to reforms, policies, and strategies related to the inclusion of a diverse and equitable workforce in the workplace, for example, the 2010-2020 European Disability Strategy (Moody, Saunders, Leber, Wójcik-Augustyniak, Szajczyk, & Rebernik, 2017).

In this study, 'disability' is the overarching term that covers impairments, activity limitations and participation restrictions resulting from problems with body function and structure (impairment), limitations to execute tasks/actions (activity restriction), and individual involvement in life situations (participation restriction) (World Health Organization, 2011). Disabled people's ability to engage in the workforce provides multiple benefits, including financial independence, a sense of self-satisfaction and improved physical and mental wellbeing (Stam, Sieben, Verbakel & De Graaf, 2015). Considering the increasing prevalence of flexible work, growth in co-working hubs and activity-based workspaces, and greater acceptance of diversity in the workplace, expectations are that organizations can make work and employment more accessible for people with disabilities. However, there are still countries that lack the necessary reforms and policies relating to a diverse workforce, especially people with disabilities in the workplace (George, 2017; Kiesel, Dezelar, & Lightfoot, 2019).

A recent Australian Government report indicates that there were 4.4 million Australians (or 17.7% of the population) with disabilities (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2018). Also, only 53.4% of people with disabilities (those aged 15-64 years), participated in the Australian workforce in 2018, confirming very little change that has occurred in this area over the last two decades. This echoes sentiments contained in a 2011 World Health Organization report stating that despite modernization and change in the workplace, there has been a minimal alteration in global workforce participation by people with disabilities over the last 20 years (World Health Organization, 2011). Considering this gap, greater flexibility in work arrangements, work conditions and places where people can conduct their work, there is a lack of Australian studies on antecedents that impact disabled people's access to flexible work. This study is based on two research questions:

  • 1.

    What are the issues and barriers that both managers and people with disabilities face with respect to flexible work arrangements; and

  • 2.

    What are the antecedents for creating flexible work arrangements to include people with disabilities in the workforce?

In response to these research questions, this study followed an interpretive qualitative research approach to identify various antecedents that are necessary to create a more inclusive work environment for people with disabilities. The chapter is structured as follows: the next section provides background literature on flexible work and disability. After that follows a description of the research approach, participants, and data collection. The subsequent section reports key themes arising from the data analysis followed by a discussion and theoretical model that describes the antecedents to the creation of flexible work arrangements for people with disabilities, and the significance of these antecedents in shaping a more digitally inclusive workforce for people with disabilities. The conclusion section discusses the limitations of the study, relevance for academia and practitioners, as well as avenues for further research.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Digital inclusion: Digital inclusion is social inclusion in the 21st century that ensures individuals and disadvantaged groups have access to, and skills to use, Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) and are therefore able to participate in and benefit from today's growing knowledge and information society.

Reasonable Adjustments: Refers to changes in the working environment allowing people with disabilities to work more productively and safely. These adjustments are usually physical, IT-enabled or ICT tools. Reasonable adjustments are usually suggested to or requested from an employer by the person who has a disability.

Disability: Disability can take many forms, be temporary, total or partial, lifelong, acquired, visible or invisible. In this study 'disability' is the overarching term that covers impairments, activity limitations and participation restrictions resulting from problems with body function and structure (impairment), limitations to execute tasks/actions (activity restriction), and individual involvement in life situations (participation restriction) (World Health Organization, 2011).

Diversity: Refers to an understanding that every individual is unique and recognizing our individual differences. These can be along the dimensions of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age, physical abilities, religious beliefs, political beliefs, or other ideologies.

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