Is Working from Home the Answer?


Here's a statistic that may startle you: Workers with disabilities suffer an unemployment rate of 70 percent. Common reasons cited by disabled people in the unemployment ranks are job discrimination and lack of transportation. However, many workers with disabilities have found a solution: Working from home. If you are a job seeker with a disability, you may want to consider telecommuting with an employer or opening your own business.

If you decide to look for an employer who is open to telecommuting, remember:

  • You may find potential bosses are reluctant to allow full-time telecommuting, as many still consider face time an essential part of teamwork. Before your interview, prepare a plan carefully outlining how you will keep in touch, whether calling in regularly or sending emails. You might also propose logging your hours and setting up quarterly reviews at which you can present the work you've done.
  • Find out whether your particular disability -- in combination with your chosen profession -- makes telecommuting a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act. These are tricky waters to navigate, but fortunately there are excellent resources at your disposal. Two of the best are the Job Accommodation Network and Disability and Business Technical Assistance Centers.

Opening your own business requires another set of strategies. Here are the basics:

  • As with anyone starting a new business, disabled or not, the first step is to go through a self-employment process, which includes developing a business plan, identifying your target market and proving to yourself and others that your business idea is viable.
  • Another crucial step is getting out there to network like crazy. If you have a disability that makes transportation an issue, use email or the telephone rather than setting up face-to-face meetings. Or consider hiring someone to be a public presence for you.
  • Find local vendors who will deliver office supplies straight to your home office.
  • Figure out how to best capitalize your business. "People with disabilities often have less capital, or they have a poor credit rating due to the financial impact of their disabilities," says Nancy Arnold, research director for Employment and Economic Development at the Rural Institute on Disabilities at the University of Montana in Missoula. She says it's important for workers with disabilities to remember that a variety of financial services are available. These include:
    1. The Locational Rehabilitation Agency, a state/federal partnership with branches in every state that assists workers with disabilities starting their own businesses.
    2. The Social Security Administration, which can help you plan to achieve self-support.
    3. Bank microloan programs targeted to low-income people looking to capitalize start-up businesses.

Before you completely pull the plug on office life, make sure you're clear about your reasons. If your disability really prevents you from leaving your front door or if you've always wanted to be your own boss, fine. But if you've given up on ever finding a job in a workplace before you've even started to look, think twice about working from home just yet.

"By telecommuting, you remove face-to-face contact," says Andrew Houtenville, PhD, research associate at the Program on Employment and Disability at Cornell University. "People may become disconnected from social roles, and so I think there needs to be some care used with that. Working from home creates limited interaction with people, places and things, and that might be problematic."

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