Think Differently Please

An opened red umbrella held above several open black umbrellas.

Think Different. Apple’s iconic tagline that was a pithy perfect piece of marketing. Aside from the distinct lack of using an adverb in its motto, I think its instruction bears renewed consideration as it relates to our current economic environment. 

On June 2, 2022, The New York Times ran a wonderful piece about the current status of our economic recovery from the blows it sustained because of the pandemic. Specifically, the focal point of the piece is around the labor market. “Why a Not-So-Hot Economy Might Be Good News” posited that the Fed and policy makers are doing a delicate dance to ensure that neither a negative inflationary cycle, nor a recession from aggressive interest rate hikes stall the economy. We get to choose between high inflation of the 1970s or a deep years-long recession of the 1980s. Yay. 

Here are a few key takeaways from the article: 

  • Currently there are significantly more job openings than there are people to fill those jobs.
  • Demand for employees is leading to wage inflation.
  • Wage inflation is leading to higher consumer prices. 
  • There are not enough people in the workforce.

That last bullet paired with the following quote is what got me thinking slightly differently. “One can unambiguously root for higher labor force participation,” said Jason Furman, a Harvard economist who was an adviser to President Barack Obama. “Beyond that, nothing else is unambiguous.”

This is all very interesting, but why should Tamman care? What does this have to do with accessibility or human-centered technology? I’ll explain. 

I follow the Bureau of Labor Statistics press releases that periodically release data on the employment figures for people with disabilities. I’ve even referenced these stats in a previous blog post, “Months & Anniversaries Are Not Enough”, where the stats are unchanging. 8/10 people with disabilities are not in the workforce! This is a fairly unchanging figure and a really powerful one. I want to be clear, this figure is comprehensive as it includes all people with disabilities including all ages over 16 years of age. This includes those looking for work as well as those no longer looking for work or feel they are unable to work. 

But the point stated in the article is that there are not enough people in the workforce. And yet, here we have a large number of people who are sitting on the sidelines. As the pandemic continues to shift workplace ideology to more remote work, to greater reliance on technology, and more flexibility in the workday. Can we use this moment to broaden our thinking even further to the benefit of all?

People with disabilities who want to work, as well as those who may have dropped out of the workforce could be enticed into positions if employers ensure that necessary internal digital technology and applications are compatible with assistive technology and meet accessibility requirements. Employers can be explicit with their remote work goals and flexibility. 

As our different thinking continues, I would encourage us all to think about more part-time opportunities to allow those on Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or those who require more time for recovery, appointments, etc. to be able to contribute. There has been talk of a four-day workweek since at least the 1950s. In addition, studies have shown that productivity has not been deterred by remote work, four day work weeks or increased flexibility. In fact, the biggest knock on the phenomenon of unlimited time off is that people end up working more, not less. 

I encourage managers, DE&I leaders and human resource professionals not to use the boilerplate job postings, but to truly embrace the potential for transformative change in their organizations by:  

  • Ensuring internal digital accessibility for all documents, communication, and applications.
  • Requiring vendors are meeting digital accessibility requirements.
  • Considering flexible and part-time opportunities in roles that may have been traditionally full time.
  • Posting jobs with equal opportunity statements that highlight the desire for people with disabilities to apply. 
  • Engaging with groups like our partners The Sierra Group who work with employers around accommodations and best practices for their workforce. 

We have the opportunity to really make good on the employment promise of the Americans with Disabilities Act and reshape our economy for the better if we are willing to take the time to rethink roles and what we require from them. Let’s think differently. 

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