Making Telework Work for Everyone

Like many people across the US and around the world, the NARIC team is getting used to teleworking, or working remotely. Telework is not a new idea, but it is a new reality for many of us as we all practice physical distancing (while staying socially connected) in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Telework is an arrangement that allows an employee to perform work, during any part of regular, paid hours, at an approved alternative worksite, different from where they would normally be doing it. Teleworkers use a variety of information and communication technology to get their jobs done, from phones and home computers to cloud-based programs and collaborative workspaces.

Making telework work for everyone, including employees with disabilities, can be challenging, but it can also remove barriers to employment for some job seekers. It can make it possible for people to engage in meaningful work if they cannot leave home due to their disability or lack of transportation access, or if there is a lack of local opportunities. It can even help employment counselors and independent living coordinators assist those who are looking for work. We looked at recent research and development in telework from the NIDILRR community and elsewhere and found a range of resources to share.

Finding a Job: The Telecom Toolbox

The Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Place-Based Solutions for Rural Community Participation, Health, and Employment maintains the Telecom Toolbox, a website dedicated to helping people with disabilities find employment using online career development tools. The site has resources for both job seekers and the service providers who support them, from how to use communication technology and social media effectively to the ethics of using online career development tools.

Supporting Workers with Disabilities: Vocational Rehabilitation Guidance and Counseling Online (VR Online)

Vocational rehabilitation counselors can support their clients with disabilities remotely through a variety of telecounseling tools. The VR Online portal offers a series of webinars to guide counselors in using these options effectively and ethically. Courses include best practices and strategies for telecounseling, online assessments, job searching and career exploration, school to work transition, and more. Each course includes a test at the end to receive continuing education credits.

Changing the Way We Work: Meeting Clients Virtually

Staff from the Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Employment of Individuals with Blindness and Other Visual Impairments led a recent forum discussion on remote training in vocational rehabilitation, through the Older Individuals Who are Blind – Technical Assistance Center (OIB-TAC). Since most training for people with visual impairment occurs face-to-face, many professionals are searching for new procedures to offer training during quarantines and physical distancing. Sylvia Stinson-Perez and Kendra Farrow, both Certified Vision Rehabilitation Therapists, facilitated discussions on working remotely, providing services and training in a remote environment, and identifying helpful resources.

Removing Barriers to Telework

Some of the barriers to telework include access to the technology of telework, like cloud-based programs and collaborative workspaces, and access to high-speed internet. Research from the Disability and Rehabilitation Research Project on Inclusive Cloud and Web Computing found that computer users with visual impairments were often frustrated with accessing cloud and mobile technologies. Americans with disabilities also are less likely to subscribe to broadband, according to recent research. Here are a few resources which may help:

  • The Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center for Improving the Accessibility, Usability, and Performance of Technology for Individuals who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing offers Accessibility Tips for a Better Zoom/Virtual Meeting Experience.
  • The ADA National Network and its Regional Centers can assist employees, employers, and program providers in understanding their rights and responsibilities with regard to telework as a reasonable accommodation, providing services remotely, and other issues related to accessibility. Contact the regional center nearest you by calling 800/949-4232. Visit adata.org for publications and links to all 10 regional centers.
  • State Assistive Technology Projects can assist individuals with disabilities and employers in accessing assistive technology for telework. State projects may offer equipment consultation and installation, technology loan programs, demonstrations or “try outs”, or financial assistance to purchase equipment. Find your state’s AT project.

Explore the research in telework

Our REHABDATA index of disability and rehabilitation research literature contains more than 200,000 abstracts of journal articles, books, reports, and consumer products spanning over 70 years of research. That includes research on telework, remote work, and virtual work. Follow these links to browse abstracts of these documents:

If you are interested in telework research, or need assistance in finding support to bring accessible telework on board for you or your organization, contact the information specialists at NARIC by phone, email, or chat!

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