Buckle up for a rocky ride. Here’s what you can do to keep yourself informed and prepared.
John Robinson has spent more than a decade connecting disabled workers with job opportunities. A congenital quad amputee, Robinson launched a pioneering organization in 2011 to support inclusive employment. Our Ability trains workers, educates employers, and collaborates with technology companies that are developing accessible tech. In recognition of Robinson’s influential work, the White House named him a “Champion of Change” for disability employment in 2014.
He’s an optimist by nature. Even so, Robinson is concerned that job losses stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic will disproportionately impact amputees and other workers with disabilities.
“If you look back to the 2008-09 recession, it took disabled workers about twice as long to recover their losses compared to the workforce as a whole,” Robinson says. “The country as a whole took about 12 to 18 months to get employment back to where it was before the recession. It took an extra 12 to 18 months for people with disabilities to get back to their previous employment levels.”
The COVID-19 pandemic looks poised to take an even bigger bite out of the job market. More than 15 million Americans have been furloughed or laid off in the last month, as thousands of businesses have reduced or completely suspended operations. No one can predict how long the disruptions will last, nor what the labor market will look like when the economy revs back up.
It’s a daunting challenge for all wage earners, but especially for amputees and other workers with disabilities. Robinson doesn’t believe that’s cause for despair, though. He thinks it’s a call to action.
“Be prepared,” he advises. “Get your skills sharpened up and your systems in place. Be ready to go back to work, and be nimble enough to find jobs where they’re being offered.” The pandemic is pushing all of us, able-bodied or not, into unfamiliar territory—but that’s often where new opportunities lie, Robinson notes.
“Ironically, this thing may be moving employment in our direction,” he says. “A lot of disabled workers are already used to remote technologies like Zoom and WebEx. Depending how things play out, we could end up in a good position. We have to make that connection with the business community.”
If you’ve lost employment due to the pandemic, or if you’re worried about job loss, here are some steps you can take to stay informed and hold steady until the economy rebounds.
1. Keep an eye on the job boards.
Even if you’re still working, it’s a good idea to know which industries are hiring. Our Ability is just one of several nonprofits that proactively solicits employment listings for amputees and other disabled workers. Another is disABLEDperson, whose extensive board includes jobs in all 50 states and has nearly 250,000 jobs overall. AbilityJobs maintains a resume bank where you can post your qualifications, plus tens of thousands of vacancies that are constantly updated. Other options include CareerCast, Getting Hired, and RecruitDisability.
Robinson says there are always pockets of opportunity, even in a downturn. Be persistent, stay alert, watch for hiring patterns, and have the flexibility to take your talents wherever they’re needed.
2. Broaden your skill set.
When businesses are forced to run lean, versatile employees have extra value. Diversifying your tool kit might keep you employed, and if you’re job-hunting it gives you more ways to market yourself. Our Ability and disABLEDperson both offer professional development programs for workers with disabilities. Subjects include IT, data science, manufacturing, MS Office, basic finance and other always-in-demand skills.
State vocational rehabilitation agencies are another excellent resource for job training, particularly (but not exclusively) if you’re out of work.
3. Leverage information.
Even if you’ve spent all your time reading since you started sheltering in place three or four weeks ago, you still haven’t had time to plow through all the COVID-related material that’s out there. The sheer volume is staggering. We’re only scratching the surface, but here are some useful resources:
* Workforce GPS has list of disability-focused employment resources for navigating the pandemic.
* The Workforce Innovation Technical Assistance Center has dozens of useful links.
* Disability:IN has an eight-part COVID-19 Response Series. While it’s aimed at employers, there’s a lot of good information in there for workers as well.
* Florida-based Able Trust has an hour-long webinar about work, disability, and COVID-19.
* The U.S. Department of Labor’s Coronavirus Resources page has a section on disabled workers, as well as good general intel about unemployment benefits and family-medical leave, workplace safety information, and sector-specific information for employees in agriculture, mining and other essential industries.
* If you’ve lost your job over COVID-19 and you think your employer is discriminating against you, Disability Rights Texas has a useful guide to what your rights are and how to assert them.
* The Campaign for Disability Employment has an excellent omnibus employment page. It’s not pandemic-specific, but there’s too much good info here to leave it off the list.
4. Keep looking forward.
“We will all get through this,” wrote Mike Corso at disABLEDperson’s blog late last month. “We do not know what it will look like at the end of this tunnel. The only thing we know is that we are all going through this together.”
“It’s easy for us to think we’re alone,” John Robinson adds. “But we need to remember that we’re not. If we work together for the greater good, we will get through this.”