COVID-19: Impact on the employment of persons with disabilities.

SW – 05/2020

On 6 May 2020, the European Commission presented its spring forecasts for the European economy. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the unemployment rate is expected to rise from 6.7% in 2019 to an estimated 9% in 2020. Certain groups will find it particularly difficult during this time, such as young people who are trying to enter the labour market and find their first job. Additionally, people with disabilities could also be among the groups that will suffer due to difficult labour market conditions.

Inequalities worsening

The COVID-19 pandemic is intensifying the inequalities often experienced by the world’s one billion people with disabilities, said United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres on launching the report ‘A Disability-Inclusive Response to COVID-19’ on 6 May 2020. According to Mr Guterres, those people who faced job exclusion before the crisis are now more likely to lose their jobs or have greater difficulty returning to work. Despite this, less than 30% of people with significant disabilities have access to benefits.

Prioritising the right to employment

‘When we secure the rights of people with disabilities, we are investing in our common future’, emphasised the UN Secretary-General. He has called on governments to put people with disabilities at the centre of efforts to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This was also one of the key messages at the online conference ‘Road to Employment for Persons with Disabilities’ co-hosted by the European Association of Service Providers for Persons with Disabilities (EASPD) and the Association for the Social and Vocational Integration of People with Disabilities (LADAPT) on 4-5 May 2020.

The employment of persons with disabilities must be a priority in the economic response to COVID-19. Given the significant negative economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the conference participants stressed the importance of upholding the right to employment for persons with disabilities and called for greater support from the EU and Member States to help those furthest from the labour market to find meaningful work.

Statistics in the EU show that before COVID-19 only about 47% of people with disabilities were employed, compared to 72% of people without disabilities (see also article from Jan 2020 on progress towards inclusive labour markets). It is feared that this difference will widen further as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Emmanuelle Grange, Head of the Disability and Inclusion Unit of the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion confirmed that employment will remain a core topic of the European Disability Strategy after 2020. James Crowe, President of EASPD, called for the future European Disability Strategy to set clear and meaningful targets for increasing the employment of people with disabilities in the open labour market (click here for EASPD press release).

Opportunities from accelerated digitalisation

At the same time, the German Economic Institute (IW) has published an article on the opportunities created by the accelerated uptake of digitalisation as a result of the COVID 19 crisis. One consequence of the pandemic is that digitalisation is happening faster in the German economy and society. For people with disabilities, this could increase their chances of finding employment in the primary labour market.


According to the Information Service of the German Economic Insitute, a representative IW survey of human resources managers in 2019 revealed that almost a third of German companies believe that digitalisation improves job opportunities for people with disabilities. In the case of large companies with more than 250 employees, the figure is almost 50%. Small and medium-sized companies still have to do more; they need more information about the specifics of hiring and training people with disabilities in order to reduce prejudice and misinformation.