Workers with disabilities hope remote work can remove obstacles to finding jobs

BOSTON — People with disabilities have always faced challenges finding work. Only about 35% are employed, which is roughly half the rate for the general population.

The pandemic has proven that remote workers can be successful, and that’s giving new hope to workers left on the sidelines.

“I think that is one positive of the pandemic, that businesses are seeing that working from home, people can be as productive,” said Jerry Boyd, who was born with cerebral palsy working for the U.S Social Security Administration.

Boyd was able to get downtown before the pandemic, but it wasn’t easy using public transportation.

“I live theoretically within the city limits of Boston, but it takes me an hour to get downtown or the North Station area, so that scares people off,” said Boyd.

What’s a necessary evil for most people can be an obstacle that makes working impossible for someone with a disability.

“It was just the physical challenges of getting out and going to work,” said Taciana Ribeiro-Saab, a program manager for the Boston Center for Independent Living.

She sees a fundamental shift in the acceptance of remote work. “It’s huge because if you can have the accommodations that you need, and it’s normalized to the whole working world, you’re not so isolated in asking for that.”

Representative Josh Cutler of Pembroke, the co-chair of the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development, responded to Boston 25 News.

“When you’re looking for employees, and you have a very tight labor market, and on the other hand, you have this untapped pool of talent, people with disabilities, marrying the two and removing the hurdles seems like a natural solution,” Pembroke said.

Cutler also authored a report on increasing the participation of workers with disabilities which was released last winter. He’s currently holding hearings around the state on the future of work.

“The Massachusetts Business Roundtable just did a study that we reviewed that saw almost 80% of their employers are considering or looking to the future with a hybrid work model,” added Cutler. “I think remote work has a great opportunity to improve the lives of people with disabilities.”

Jerry Boyd couldn’t agree more. “It gets us off the welfare rolls and having to rely solely on benefits, and it keeps folks’ minds active.”

Ribeiro-Saab added, “I want us to stop talking about going back to normal. This is the new normal and let’s embrace it.”

Another incentive is now in place here in Massachusetts to encourage the hiring of workers with disabilities. Representative Cutler says companies can get a tax credit of up to $5,000 for each person they hire.

This change in the tax code went into effect this summer.