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Disability and Employment During a Pandemic

November 02, 2020

For many of us, employment is critical to our physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. It provides a sense of purpose, a source of income, and can be an outlet for our passions. An injury or illness that threatens to remove someone from the workforce can be devastating. It can mean completely losing the ability to work, or that the profession the person held prior to their disability is no longer an option.

At Craig, getting back to work is a goal for so many of our patients since it is often a key piece of their identity and something they would like to get back to after an injury.

While COVID-19 has introduced many challenges, including staying active and maintaining our emotional well-being, one unexpected result is that it may have actually created new opportunities for people with disabilities to return to work.

For someone living with a disability, the question of working is not always whether they can perform the job but the other logistics that go along with it. For instance, transportation, accessibility and available accommodations all play into a person’s ability to return to work.

Prior to the pandemic, only 19% of businesses had a remote-work strategy in place1. Remote work options had often been limited due to concerns around productivity, collaboration and culture.

When COVID-19 shutdowns first began, more than 50% of the American workforce moved to working remotely2, and it has been proven that remote work continued to result in productivity — sometimes even increased productivity — and collaboration. While the number of people working remotely has now dropped to 33%2, many companies plan to continue to offer some type of remote option. In fact, some large companies like Twitter and Zillow have moved to a permanent remote-work model.

What does this mean for people with disabilities?

Craig Grad back to work after spinal cord injury
Craig Grad Thad Dent back to work at O'Reilly's Auto Parts.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 31.7% of people with disabilities who are between the age of 16 and 64 are employed3. However, studies show that the vast majority of people who have a disability and are unemployed want to work, but there are barriers after a life-altering injury or illness.

“The success of the remote work model during COVID-19 certainly removes some of those logistical barriers of returning to work,” said Jandel Allen-Davis, president and CEO of Craig. “By taking away some of the technical reasons people may not have been able to work, our businesses can tap into a whole new pool of talented workers in the workforce.”

Office of Disability Employment Policy Deputy Assistant Secretary Jennifer Sheehy said, “Now more than ever, flexibility is important for both workers and employers. National Disability Employment Awareness Month celebrates the ingenuity people with disabilities bring to America’s workplaces.”

At Craig, our Community Reintegration Program and other vocational programs provide early action and coordination between workers who are injured, employers and healthcare providers to help people return to meaningful work they had access to before their injury or illness. Not only does this team work with people and employers to ensure successful return to work plans – including possible remote work – they also help identify and prepare patients for different career paths if they are no longer able to return to their former position.


  1. Terminal “Remote Leadership Report”: https://terminal.io/remote-leadership-report
  2. Gallup Poll: https://news.gallup.com/poll/321800/covid-remote-work-update.aspx
  3. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: https://www.bls.gov/news.release/archives/dissup_05012020.htm