Remote work brings accessibility
A Q&A session with SourceAmerica’s Nathaniel Muncie
Many workers have long been able to bring their laptops home with them to set up for a work-from-home session once or twice a week. That concept was put to the test on a much larger scale when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the nation.
Between technology and disruption of daily routines at home, no one was sure how businesses and employees would adapt. For Nathaniel Muncie, who is deaf and has been working remotely for SourceAmerica® as a senior specialist on the Workforce Development team since December 2019, the answer was clear. SourceAmerica recently sat down with Muncie to discuss the personal and professional perspective of a person with a disability, and the challenges – and successes – related to working from home.
Q: How has working from home become such an important part of the workplace?
A: Working from home has become an important part of the workplace ecosystem. Telework is now part of a bigger employment picture, providing employment opportunities for people who have differing needs in differing situations. Because of the pandemic, a large portion of the workforce had to stay home. Transportation is often a barrier to employment for people with disabilities, so with many people now working from home, it showed employers the possibilities.
Q: Was your disability a factor in choosing to telework full-time?
A: I sometimes find myself struggling during interactions with hearing people – especially in group settings. One-on-one encounters always have been doable for me but communicating with groups of people is often challenging. In the office, it can be draining as a deaf person – the amount of energy spent trying to communicate when an interpreter is not available is incredible. Although I can lipread and speak, it’s good to be able to control when and how I use those capabilities. That’s why I chose a telework option over another one that wasn’t fully remote.
While working from home has increased my access to communication with everyone that I work with, what’s most evident is that I am less exhausted since I am not spending energy on commuting each way and facing in-person communication barriers with hearing people. Because of this, my personal life has become enriched.
Q: Why is telework important to the disability community?
A: Telework can empower someone with a disability to do what they want to do. Accessibility is a big deal and people with disabilities are often most comfortable in their home because its already an accessible environment. This can lead to cost-effectiveness for an employer because having an employee telework can provide more of an incentive for employers to want to spend money on accessibility and accommodations, and most importantly – actually want hire someone with a disability.
Q: What advancements in technology have changed accessibility for remote workers?
A: I used to run into brick walls trying to get a hold of someone who may be in another office, in a meeting, or out to lunch. With telework more prevalent, I can send a message to someone, and more often than not, get an immediate response. Even if someone is in a meeting at their desk, they are still responding to me real time because of applications like instant messaging on Zoom or other similar platforms.
Video conferencing wasn’t being used as often a decade ago, but the applications have improved greatly – especially from an accessibility standpoint. Captioning is now available on these platforms, and that’s been an amazing enhancement for me. Additionally, the user interface has become more flexible and intuitive, so that’s been a positive as well. I am now able to pin key people to my screen on some applications, which is huge when you are the only person who is deaf in a large meeting online and have several American Sign Language interpreters’ screens to keep an eye on. These advancements even out the playing field for me in many ways.
Q: In your role at SourceAmerica as part of the Workforce Development team, and as someone with a disability yourself, what do you see as the future of telework?
A: There are several factors still to be determined, but I am certain we will see an increase in the numbers of people with disabilities in the IT and communications support fields. This is directly related to the advancements in telework accessible technology. Because it’s cost effective for employers, and accommodations are easier to provide for a home office, the number of people with disabilities in the workplace are likely to increase. Telework provides a pathway for this talented sector of the workforce to find and keep jobs. Technology, advocacy, and cultural advancements are all allowing for this shift to occur.
For industries that require someone to be on-site like custodial or manufacturing, there are increasing instances of robotic-based options that are going to require support and monitoring. People with disabilities who currently perform these jobs will need training to assist these robots in taking over some of their tasks. That will represent a profound shift from manual labor to technical support for many of these workers.
I am looking forward to seeing what happens over the next several years as people with disabilities continue to find employment opportunities through improved telework accommodations, enhanced accessibility, and rising acceptance in the workforce.