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Impact Feature Issue on Supporting New Career Paths for People with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities

Finding New Career Options Through Telework

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Derek Nord is Research Associate with the Research and Training Center on Community Living, Institute on Community Integration, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis

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One of the creative approaches to work in the U.S. that is receiving increasing attention is telework. Telework is “...a work arrangement that allows an employee to perform work, during any part of regular, paid hours, at an approved alternative worksite...” (U.S. Office of Personnel Management, 2012). Telecommuting is a form of telework that involves doing a job from home full or part-time. (The WorkPlace, 2012). A person who telecommutes may have their own home-based business, or work for a business or organization that offers its employees telecommuting as an option, or they may work as an independent contractor (The WorkPlace, 2012).

While telework, and specifically telecommuting, are not for everyone, they do offer advantages for some people, including some individuals with disabilities. For instance, working from a home office can reduce time spent traveling to and from the workplace, and offer an alternative in locations where transportation isn’t always readily available. It can allow people who manage complex medical conditions to work in an environment that they control and have already set-up to meet their individual needs. It can also allow people to work on a more flexible schedule that fits with other parts of their lives. For those who live with chronic fatigue or pain it can provide a way to work that allows for breaks as needed. And it can be a way for some people with disabilities to create their own businesses.

What makes telecommuting possible is technology. Depending on the type of work, telecommuting can require that a person have equipment in their home such as a computer with necessary software, Internet connection, e-mail, reliable phones, fax capability, and assistive technology devices such as voice recognition software and headsets. In some situations the needed equipment may be employer provided; for example, if a company offers telecommuting as a flexible work option to employees in all or some of its positions, it may supply the equipment needed to work outside the office. In some situations, such as self-employment, it must be provided by the individual. In some states, assistive technology loan programs can be accessed to borrow or purchase computers and other equipment needed for employment.

As with all employment situations it is important that the work tasks and the telecommuting arrangement match with and build on an individual’s interests and skills. It is typical for telecommuting arrangements to require a high level of independent and organized work. Telecommuters often need to manage time well, be self-driven to complete their work, and be computer literate. Of course, the nature of telecommuting often results in more limited in-person contact with coworkers than in a traditional job arrangement. However, with improvements in technology it is still possible to connect with others face-to-face via video conferencing.

With individualized supports and proper job customization many of the challenges related to telecommuting can be reduced and often eliminated. Below are some of the many resources that provide information about telecommuting and telework as a more flexible, alternative work arrangement:

  • Telework Tools Web site.  This Web site provides an introduction to the world of telework for job seekers, employment and training service providers, and employers. It was made possible through funding received from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, and is useful to people with and without disabilities. Among the many resources on the site is the Self-Assessment Questionnaire that job seekers can use to determine whether telework is a good fit for them.
  • Work At Home/Telework as a Reasonable Accommodation.  This fact sheet from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission explains the ways that employers may use existing telework programs, or allow an individual to work at home, as a reasonable accommodation.
  • Developing and Implementing Strategies for Employing Teleworkers with Disabilities (Project STRIDE Final Report).  By J. Anderson & F. Douma (2009). This report presents the findings of Project STRIDE, which sought to identify the circumstances and practices in which telework is most successful and the barriers that prevent more widespread use of telework for employees with disabilities. Published by the Midwest Institute for Telecommuting Education, and the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota.
  • Virtual Exclusion and Telework: Barriers and Opportunities of Technocentric Workplace Accommodation Policy. By P. M. A. Baker, N. W. Moon, & A. C. Ward. (2006). This article in the publication Work: Journal of Prevention, Assessment & Rehabilitation, 27(4), explores the relationship between telework and people with disabilities, including not only how it might open increased work opportunities, but how it may also present social and other barriers. It “...proposes a number of policy approaches for the creation of an inclusive work environment for teleworkers with disabilities that can minimize, as much as possible, the social isolation faced by teleworkers with disabilities while maximizing their participation within the workplace community.”

 

  • The WorkPlace. (2012). Why telecommute? Retrieved from http://www.teleworktools.org

  • U.S. Office of Personnel Management. (2012). Frequently asked questions: Telework. Retrieved from http://www.opm.gov/faqs/topic/telework/index.aspx