Why we should reserve jobs for people with disabilities

For people with disabilities, a position suited to their skill set is crucial for their success.

Gil Winch Ph.D. – Psychology Today

Greg is a 26-year-old with a hearing disability and above-average intelligence, yet he has been chronically unemployed since he graduated from high-school. Time and again Greg was asked to adapt to positions that demanded constant verbal communication, only to fail. Tammy is a 32-year-old woman with a developmental disability. She has never managed to keep a job for more than a few days—not surprising given that each position she was offered demanded cognitive abilities that were beyond her capacity.

For people with disabilities, being paired with a position that is suited to their skill sets is crucial for their success. Otherwise, like Greg, many end up suffering chronic unemployment, along with the poverty and social isolation that go with it. However, the problem many people with disabilities face when looking to join the job market is that their specific “suited positions” are usually all taken. The good news is that this problem is an easy one to solve.

Reserved Employment for the Opportunity Deprived (REOD) Most people who are visually impaired cannot become taxi drivers or airline pilots, most people who use a wheelchair or walker cannot become ushers in a stadium and many people on the autistic spectrum would struggle with becoming a therapist. In general, most people with disabilities have fewer jobs that they can succeed at than others. When it comes to jobs they are relatively “opportunity deprived.” Reserved employment for the opportunity deprived is a needed social norm in which every corporation, governmental office, or NGO reserves specific jobs that are suited for those (people with disabilities and others) who have fewer employment options and opportunities. This is precisely what we do for people with limited mobility options, for example, regarding parking. Every venue in the world keeps reserved parking spaces for people with mobility disabilities because otherwise they would be left out. Globally adopting this norm would make our workplaces truly accessible in every meaning of the word.

Here are two examples:

REOD example 1: People with more severe hearing disabilities do well when working in chat services for technical support, customer service, and sales positions. If governmental and private employers reserved just a few of their chat positions on each team for people with hearing disabilities, it would open the job market to millions of people with auditory disabilities who are currently unable to find suitable employment.

Sadly, when it comes to disability workplace inclusion, things have not moved forward over the years; rather, the opposite is often true: 430 million people in the world have disabling hearing loss, and, sadly for them, employment rates for deaf people were higher in 2008 than they were in 2017. More and more people with hearing loss are left out of the job market each year.

REOD example 2: Many people with cognitive disabilities tidy up their rooms and make their beds every day, do dishes, and clean up after meals. Hiring people with Down syndrome and other cognitive disabilities to bus tables and wash dishes in restaurants or clean rooms in hotels—something a couple of businesses have done with great results—could be done at scale.

Summary: One billion people in the world are those with disabilities, and most are chronically unemployed. People with disabilities are by far the most unemployed group in every country on the planet. However, most of the unemployed people with disabilities are out of work not for lack of ability but for lack of opportunity: Those jobs to which they can bring their abilities to bear are often unavailable.

It’s time to incorporate the same logic for employment that we do with parking—reserve specific places (jobs) for those who need them. REOD is a practical concept that should be adopted with the same fervor. Hundreds of millions of unemployed people with disabilities, their families, and communities have all waited long enough.



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