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Remote work is not a luxury.

A white desk and chair in what is likely a home office. On the desk are a laptop, tablet device, and an external keyboard and mouse.
Laura Pettenuzzo

Apr 15, 2024

“We’d really love to have you as part of the team, but we need someone who could be in the office every day.”

I heard those words, or a variation of them, several times last year before I found my current role, which I complete from home.

It was difficult then, but in 2024, as lockdowns become a distant memory, even places which would otherwise be flexible and accommodating of disability have reverted to “post-pandemic” expectations. I’ve been scrolling through websites for job-seekers over the past few months, with increasing despondency.

My heart sinks whenever I see criteria that include: “must work from the office.” I know that role is unavailable and inaccessible to me. Other disabled people will be pushed out of their existing jobs by the implementation of return-to-office policies, with The Conversation reporting that a quarter of employees would quit their jobs if forced back to the office. And they’d have good reason for doing so.

A photo of a woman working at a laptop, on a video call to another person. Both people are wearing surgical ear loop face masks.

For the disability community, remote work is not a luxury. It is, in some cases, a necessity. In an ongoing pandemic, it is dangerous for those of us who cannot risk Long COVID to be in poorly ventilated offices, surrounded by unmasked and possibly infectious coworkers for several days a week. But the pandemic is not the only reason I advocate for flexible work arrangements.

Disabled people were advocating for the option of remote work long before COVID lockdowns. For people who are housebound by their disability, remote work is the only option. And for people, like me, whose energy is impacted by disability, working from home makes work-life balance a reality.

I can now use the energy that I would previously use on the commute to and from the office – either driving (when I was able) or on public transport – in other ways. I can rest as frequently as my body demands, often napping during my lunch break, so that I am refreshed and refocused for the remainder of the day.

My employers benefit, too. I’m more productive and engaged when I don’t have to navigate a physical space not designed for my needs as an ambulant wheelchair user. My experience is mirrored by the National Bureau of Economic Research, which found that industries such as IT and finance see a significant increase in staff productivity among those who work remotely. They found that employees experience greater focus and fewer distractions when working from home, which is particularly advantageous for employees with sensory sensitivities.

A wide black and white photo of two people sitting at a small table in what looks like an office lobby or break out area.

Some jobs, of course, can only be done in person. But not the kind of jobs I apply or am qualified for. I can write Easy Read or plain language content from anywhere with an internet connection and somewhere I can sit down. On the contrary, some people whose jobs can be done remotely – disabled or otherwise – need an office in which to work. That’s why I’m not arguing for a one size fits all approach.

Instead, we need and deserve the flexibility to work in a way that suits our individual situations. And with the undeniable benefits for both employee and employer, why wouldn’t we maintain a policy of hybrid or remote work?