The digital economy after COVID-19 must include the disabled.

SW – 02/2021

What opportunities and risks does the digitised working world hold with regard to including the disabled? What measures need to be taken to ensure that no one is left behind? These and other questions about the impact of a digitised working world on the disabled are explored in the “An inclusive digital economy for the disabled” report by the Global Business network of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the ONCE Fundación.

The report (only available in English) was produced as part of the Disability Hub Europe, which aims to promote inclusive and sustainable business in Europe whilst simultaneously promoting the both labour and social inclusions of the disabled.

Employment situation

A brief summary of the status quo shows that the employment quota for the disabled is still significantly lower than the quota for people without disabilities. It is 50.8 percent for the 20 - 64 age group as compared to 75 percent for people without disabilities (based on 2018 data). Women with disabilities are frequently even more disadvantaged, as their employment quota is only 47.8 per cent as compared to 54.3 per cent for their male counterparts.

It should be noted that this might not reflect the actual employment situation, as many people with disabilities are not registered as unemployed. The coronavirus crisis further intensifies these inequalities. The disabled, who have already experienced exclusion from employment before the crisis, are more likely to lose their jobs and face greater difficulties in returning to work.

Opportunities and barriers in the digitised working world

On the one hand, digitisation enables the disabled to access employment 'directly' via online recruitment platforms. Digital tools can support daily tasks in the workplace. New digital workplaces offer a range of new employment opportunities that could also be of interest to the disabled.

On the other, digital barriers threaten to thwart these opportunities and intensify existing inequalities and exclusions unless they are countered by effective and targeted initiatives. This has already started with the lack of access to necessary education and training to qualify for new digital jobs. Barriers could also arise in relation to job applications, because the disabled are more often unable to afford the Internet and the necessary information and communication technology and therefore, are prevented from accessing online recruitment processes or company recruitment platforms.

The increasing use of AI in recruitment processes could also pose additional problems for the disabled, such as facial movements and voice analyses during personality or recruitment tests that will disproportionately screen out people with disabilities. However, obstacles can also arise during digital collaboration due to the lack of accessibility to necessary digital working tools, such as the lack of subtitling systems for collaborating with deaf people.

Promoting inclusive digital labour markets

The report also highlights the three main levers for creating inclusive digital labour markets for the disabled: ensuring accessibility, promoting digital skills and digital employment. Ensuring accessibility and promoting digital skills are the key to the inclusion of the disabled in the working world.

It is also important to ensure that digital employment initiatives include the disabled. The disabled should be included in initiatives to promote digital employment with appropriate working conditions in post-COVID-19 pandemic reconstruction measures.

In view of the stagnating employment situation, it will be interesting to see what measures the new EU 2021 - 2030 strategy for the disabled, which is expected in March, will include to achieve inclusive labour markets.