Freedom and flexibility. It’s what every worker dreams of: the ability to complete assignments when and how he or she sees fit. Thanks to technological developments like high-speed internet access, video conferencing, and the ability to stay connected from almost anywhere, more and more companies are shifting from traditional offices with the common strictures of the cubicle and a set schedule, to “virtual offices” where more emphasis is given to the needs of the employee.
Arguments in favor of working in a virtual office space, or telecommuting, typically center around an increase in general productivity: freed from the stresses of an over-long commute, “office politics,” and meddling coworkers and supervisors, employees can often get more accomplished—and feel more satisfied doing so. But there are other types of productivity that can benefit from a virtual office—namely, the productivity of people living with disabilities.
While the freedom and flexibility of a virtual office may give the typical employee the satisfaction of working as he or she sees fit; for a disabled person, it may provide the freedom—and satisfaction—to work, period. According to a 2000 survey conducted by the National Organization on Disability and Harris Interactive, only 3 out of 10 disabled people aged 18 to 64 were employed, compared to 8 out of 10 from the same group of non-disabled people. Thanks to telecommuting, however, a growing number of disabled people are able to find jobs they could not have held previously, or are able to retain jobs they have long trained for. (“By Telecommuting; the Disabled Get a Key to the Office, and a Job”).
Janet Pearce of NBC News is one such person. Even after being diagnosed with muscular sclerosis, Pearce continued to advance in her career as a producer, thanks in no small part to her employer’s willingness to let Pearce telecommute for part of her schedule.
Not all employers are willing to consider the option for their employees to telecommute, but more may have to as courts decide what is a “reasonable accommodation” under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) (“Keys to the Office”). According to the ADA, “all employers with 15 or more employees [must] provide reasonable accommodations to qualified employees with disabilities, to allow them to perform the essential functions of their jobs. Among the types of accommodation that employers must explore are modifying the work environment, and altering work schedules,” including considering telecommuting (“Telecommuting as a Reasonable Accommodation for Disabled Employees”).
WeCo is a company founded around telecommuting for its Certified Test consultants, and, with nearly all of its employees—CTCs, Staff, and Advisory Board Members—living with some type of disability, is ever-mindful of accommodations as it creates its own virtual office.
And the greatest accommodation WeCo can provide is a sense of connectedness. Whether it is the friendly back-and-forth of a private social networking group, regular company outings, or a Career Path designed to recognize those employees who may have little direct contact with their supervisors, we at WeCo feel that the uniqueness that makes us what we are can only be seen in relief as the community we work to foster.