How to Engage Employees with Disabilities in the Gig Economy Age

From freelance contracting to on-demand apps…from working from a home office to spending work hours on the road…more and more workers are shifting their career goals from pursuing traditional 9-to-5’s, to joining what is now commonly known as the “gig economy.”

Coined almost a decade ago at the height of the country’s financial crisis, the phrase was initially aimed at unemployed people who made a living by “gigging,” or working multiple part-time jobs, to help pay their bills. Today, technology has widely opened opportunities for professionals to thrive in the gig economy. So much so, that more than one third (36 percent) of U.S. workers participate in a gig work arrangement, be it full- or part-time. Work within the gig economy is now more broadly defined as “an environment in which temporary positions are common and organizations contract with independent workers for short-term engagements.”

Gig work has typically been touted as a great opportunity for young workers who prefer flexible hours and limited commitment, or even Baby Boomers who are preparing to retire. However, the benefits of working in the gig economy age make it an ideal option for many job seekers with disabilities.

What Benefits does the Gig Economy Offer People with Disabilities?

Participation in the gig economy offers these benefits for people with disabilities:

  1. Flexible work hours – The ability to control work hours is often beneficial for employees with disabilities, as this makes scheduling around disability-related needs, such as personal care assistance and medication, much easier.
  2. Telework – The ability to work from a remote location eliminates the need for strenuous commutes that can include lack of access to appropriate transportation or traveling in inclement weather. It also provides opportunities to work in environments that are most conducive for meeting disability and other health-related needs.
  3. Compliance with benefit programs – When it comes to employment, many people with disabilities are required to stay within income limits to remain on federal/state benefit programs such as Medicaid or Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Gig work allows greater opportunities for people with disabilities to work while controlling their income, as they are given freedom to work as many or as few hours as needed to remain within program income stipulations.

How Can Employers Engage People with Disabilities in the Gig Economy?

Today’s gig economy presents many job options for people with disabilities, including long-term freelance work, short-term contracts, and on-demand jobs. No matter the industry or type of work, employers should still consider a few things when it comes to actively engaging people with disabilities in the gig economy:

  • Apply the ADA (and other federal regulations) – The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires employers to ensure they provide equal access to employment for people with disabilities. This does not exclude employers who hire gig workers. Therefore, companies must ensure that every aspect of their employment process is accessible, including the platforms, technology, and application processes used for hiring.
  • Value their perspectives – Employees with disabilities are often recognized for bringing new and valuable perspectives to work environments, which ultimately brings greater financial returns. This also applies in the gig economy, as employees with disabilities’ diverse views on how to solve problems and uniquely achieve success can be very beneficial for business growth and overall industry innovation. Therefore, employers should maintain strong communication and seek consistent feedback from gig workers with disabilities.
  • Honor their loyalty – The flexibility of gig work can present concerns that employees will not remain with a company for very long, as the on-demand or short-term nature of gigs means that people can find other opportunities at any time. However, many employers share that a common benefit to hiring people with disabilities is their loyalty and reliability. Consistent research proves that when employees with disabilities join a company, they stay around. In order to boost morale and retain employees even longer, it is important for employers to recognize the loyalty of their employees, including those with disabilities.

For more on how to ensure access to people with disabilities in the gig economy, including how to comply with federal regulations, see this resource from the Partnership on Employment & Accessible Technology (PEAT). For additional information on how to engage employees with disabilities in the gig economy, contact the Getting Hired team.

Contributions to this blog were made by Andraéa LaVant of Solutions Marketing Group.