A scene of people with various disabilities gathered around a blue lake, enjoying their home, community, the out-of-doors, health, recreation, housing, transportation and education with an accessible path for them to a high mountain and large yellow sun on the horizon.  New Horizons Un-Limited Inc.



Part I: Telecommuting, an Option to Traditional Employment for the Disabled

October 31, 2000

Today, many individuals with disabilities are faced with the dilemma of finding employment. With the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, individuals with disabilities were granted their right of equal employment. Title I requires organizations with 15 or more employees not discriminate against the employment of people with disabilities. Specifically, an organization cannot discriminate in the recruitment, hiring, promotions, training, pay, social activities and other privileges of employment. Also, in the recruitment and hiring of a person with a disability an organization is restricted to asking certain questions pertaining to the disability until a job offer is established. After a person with a disability is hired, a company must make reasonable accommodations for this individual, unless it will cause the business undue hardship. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is responsible for providing information to businesses in order for them to learn of their regulations and rights under Title I. The ADA establishes a process for organizations to assess an individual with a disability and his or her ability to perform the job functions. This allows individuals with disabilities to overcome barriers that may limit them in obtaining a job due to their disability, but is based on the same performance standards as those without disabilities.

This alone has not ended the struggle of the disabled to locate, obtain and sustain employment opportunities. There are limited resources for individuals with disabilities to locate positions that are parallel to their needs and skills. Once a position is located and obtained, which is not an easy task in itself, many arrangements must be made by the employer and employee. For example, the employee must make arrangements for transportation. For those who are not disabled, this may not appear to be a trying issue. However, individuals with disabilities must make arrangements to take public transportation or make arrangements to obtain a ride from a transit service for the elderly and disabled. As most of us are aware, neither of these choices are highly reliable. In comparison, the only alternative is to pay outrageous cab fares twice a day, which is only an option available to those who reside in a location that has cab service. Therefore, transportation becomes an issue that will need resolution. Another issue that needs resolution is the issue of employer accommodation discussed in the above paragraph. Employers must be in an accessible building, have an accessible office and office space and have accessible equipment. These can be quite costly for small businesses, but are necessary for individuals with disabilities to perform their job in the same fashion as individuals without disabilities. As we have indicated, there are many issues that arise and can discourage the disabled and employers of the disabled. In the following, we will discuss the first part of a program that serves as an alternative to the traditional employment of individuals with disabilities, telecommuting.

What is Telecommuting?

Many of you may be wondering, what is telecommuting? Telecommuting was started by individuals who had a tremendous amount of work to do in a day, individually, and wanted to avoid the long commute to the job place. However, today it is being used by many individuals for many reasons. It is being used by mothers who want to save on day care and spend more time at home. It is being used by companies in cities with an air pollution problem. For instance, many companies allow certain individuals to telecommute when there are pollution advisories for that day. Other companies are using it as a way to overcome spatial issues. They can have employees in remote locations across the globe due to the increased capabilities of technology. As you can see, telecommuting can include all different job positions from a CEO that wants to stay home and go over contracts in peace to a data entry clerk that wants to put in extra hours at home in his or her spare time. Individuals who become involved in this method of employment are either assigned to it by their employer or choose to work out of their home due to other priorities that make it more efficient. Telecommuting is a broad term that covers any work done out of the traditional office setting. However, we specifically are going to discuss work that is done out of the home rather than a traditional office setting.

Telecommuting has been described in other terms as well: remote office work (ROW), telework or telecomputing. Many have identified a euphemism to describe this type of work that relies on technologies to overcome spatial barriers, the "Electronic Cottage." There have been recent trends in telecommuting due to the increases in technology and the corporate need for more flexibility and better employees. Distance staffing has developed. This is when companies recruit spatially dispersed employees. Many companies are expanding national and globally and transfer employees to start up new locations. Other companies are in need of an individual's expertise and higher individuals in remote locations under a telecommuting agreement. Some employees choose to be self-employed and demand to telecommute. As indicated here, telecommuting covers a broad range of employees and types of work.

Benefits of Telecommuting

Many employers are stuck in the idea of the traditional office. However, others have already begun testing and implementing this type of work and have reaped the benefits of telecommuting. Telecommuting is not purely an advantage for the employee, as many traditional organizations believe. It is a win-win situation for all parties involved, employer, employee and society. Three interrelated motives have been identified that have lead to the increased use of telecommuting by organizations: cost containment due to organizational overhead and government regulation, changes in workplace culture and changes in constitution of organizations. Many organizations do not necessarily realize the savings they will incur after start up costs are recovered. An analysis of annual cost reductions related to telecommuting ranged from $6,000 to $12,000 per employee. In addition to these figures, the American Association of Telecommuting has identified benefits of telecommuting that profit all parties involved.

  1. The individual benefits from telecommuting because he or she immediately eliminates the time, trouble, and expense of physically commuting to work. This gives the average person an extra hour per day, right off the top, to use for the thinking, the writing, the telephoning, the planning, and the reporting work which keeps the business organization moving forward. It relieves an individual with disabilities from having to arrange for transportation and the costs, economically and otherwise, that can be associated with transportation.
  2. The benefits of telecommuting also translate directly and immediately into more discretionary time, more time with the family, less stress, and general health improvements.
  3. The employer benefits from telecommuting because of the extra productivity that results -- consistently clocked at 10-15% in nearly every such study during the past two decades.
  4. The organization also saves on expenses. For example, by having half one's work force telecommute one day a week, the organization's expenses are cut down by 10% on the need for offices, desks and chairs, bathrooms, copy machines, parking spaces, heating and lighting, and all the rest. For employers of the disabled, it cuts down on the costly expenses of accessible construction and adaptive technology.
  5. In addition, telecommuting helps the best employees stay longer, saving on recruiting and training costs, and also makes it practical for the organization to reach out another 10, 20, or 30 miles (or more) in finding qualified people to fill important posts. It allows individual with disabilities with skills and expertise to gain and sustain employment, while allowing organizations to employ a population of individuals with needed skills that may have otherwise been unable to reach or accommodate.
  6. Society benefits from telecommuting because it immediately cuts down on air pollution, use of non-renewable energy sources, and traffic congestion. Also, it allows for more individuals to contribute to society.

This short editorial is just a portion of the overall program that we are attempting to create for individuals with disabilities and employers looking to enhance their workforce. Our objective is to educate individuals on the basics of telecommuting and the opportunity that this type of program provides for both employees and employers. It opens the doors for employees and employers alike to solve ongoing problems in America, such as the desire for individuals with disabilities to gain equal employment and the need of organizations to hire quality employees. Future editorials will provide the following information for employers and employees on this topic:

How do you telecommute?
What technology is needed for telecommuting?
What tasks are good for telecommuting?
Am I compatible for telecommuting?
Is our organization capable of telecommuting?
How does my organization start a telecommuting program?...and much more.

Information for this editorial, was obtained, in part, from the American Association of Telecommuting and Workforce Online.

For more on the topic of Employment:

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[Updated October 31, 2000]
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