According to Gartner’s Top Strategic Predictions for 2020 and Beyond published in late-2019, using artificial intelligence (AI) and emerging technologies would enhance accessibility at work, which would in turn, increase employment rates for individuals with disabilities. They predicted the number of people with disabilities in the labor force would triple by 2023 due to new technologies that reduce accessibility obstacles. With the rate of active labor force participants with disabilities standing at only 19.3% in the United States, this left the majority of these candidates, many of which have a plethora of untapped talent, available for hire.
Unfortunately, due to the effect the unforeseen COVID-19 pandemic has had on employment rates, it is difficult to ascertain whether this prediction of tripling employment would have been accurate. So far, however, that prediction is not on track.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2020, the employment rate for people with disabilities fell to 17.9% from 19.3% the year prior. The rate of employed individuals without disabilities also fell from 66.3% to 61.8% and the unemployment rates for both groups increased to 12.6% and 7.9% respectively.
Factoring in COVID-19, the 2020 data on individuals with disabilities, collected as part of the monthly Current Population Survey (CPS) and sponsored by the Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, still indicates that individuals with disabilities were much less likely to be employed than those without disabilities in all age groups. Unemployment rates for individuals with disabilities were greater than those without disabilities across all educational attainment groups. Twenty-nine percent of employees with disabilities were part-time, compared with 16% of those without disabilities. People with disabilities were more likely to be self-employed than those without disabilities.
This data indicates that there is still much to be done in terms of increasing employment for individuals with disabilities. The need for employers to continue to understand the importance of offering reasonable accommodations is paramount to stopping this trend of increasing unemployment rates in the disabled community.
Here are some ways employers can help remove existing barriers to employment for potential candidates and increase accessibility and retention in existing employees:
- Survey your employees with disabilities to gauge the efficacy of your diversity, equity, and inclusivity efforts, and gain better insight into additional changes you may need to consider.
- Ensure your career website is accessible.
- Improve your inclusive hiring process.
- Employers that utilize AI in recruitment efforts need to practice diligence in ensuring they are not inadvertently excluding individuals with disabilities based on the algorithms used.
The current advancements in AI and technology could be beneficial to increasing opportunity and retention for individuals with disabilities in the workplace, if employers continue to become knowledgeable of its importance and benefits. In Japan, they are exploring the utilization of AI robotics technology to have paralyzed employees operate robotic waiters. Virtual career fairs tailored for neurodiverse candidates have been held by large companies such as JPMorgan Chase, Microsoft, and Ford. Braille-reader technology was integrated into Enterprise Rent-A-Car’s reservation system for use by blind employees.
The opportunities for job growth in the disabled community through the advancement of technology is limitless. While Gartner’s tripling employment rate prediction may not have come to fruition as of yet, the potential for improvement still exists if proper measures are put in place by understanding employers.