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The Impact of the Pandemic on People with Disabilities

John Lambo - May 12 2022
Published in: Global Workforce
Disabled workers have been disproportionately negatively affected by the pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly disrupted everyone’s lives, especially people with disabilities. The events that unfolded during the pandemic, including measures to mitigate the spread, created unintended problems and barriers to people with disabilities in becoming and remaining employed.

The World Health Organization estimates that 1.3 billion people, or 17% of the world’s population, experience some form of disability, and disability prevalence is higher in developing countries. This is the largest minority group worldwide. Yet, only 4% of businesses are focused on making offerings inclusive of disability. As a result, people with disabilities are often disregarded as customers and deprived access to employment, and the current global employment rate for disabled people is half that of non-disabled people. People with disabilities often experience unequal hiring and promotion standards, unequal pay for equal work, and occupational segregation in the workplace. 

Historically, people with disabilities generally experience higher rates of unemployment. However, before the pandemic, the share of the disabled who were employed increased faster than for people without disabilities, indicating progress in closing the disability unemployment gap. However, pandemic-related layoffs and re-employment efforts have disproportionately impacted people with disabilities.

The impact of the pandemic on individuals with disabilities has become more complex in terms of finding employment and staying employed. People with disabilities who lose their jobs may be less likely to return. Based on previous trends, people with disabilities who experience job loss will likely be slower to recover their prior employment status. For example, during the Great Recession, the employment rate fell more for people with disabilities than for people without disabilities, and the recovery rate for people with disabilities was slower. The effects of the pandemic are having a similar impact on employment rates for people with disabilities.

Workplaces will need to adapt to significant increases in the disabled population and the disabled workforce. Several adaptations noted in the Worldwide ERC® article, An Untapped Resource – Workers with Disabilities, are:

  • Alternative application methods
  • Adjusted schedules
  • Equipment requirements
  • Location preferences
  • Learning techniques
  • Specific task Analysis
  • Job coaching

“Companies need to be committed to finding meaningful solutions on how all stakeholders view workers with disabilities within the organization. This honest assessment can then accelerate the inclusivity message and identify the bottlenecks in hiring and working with people with disabilities”, says Bandile Mndebele, Client Onboarding and Change Analyst for Ninety One.

Closing the disability inclusion gap by driving business action, capturing and disseminating learnings, and leveraging leadership is the main objective of The Valuable 500 Initiative, launched in 2019 by the World Economic Forum. The organization aims to engage 500 private-sector corporations to be the tipping point for change and unlock the business, social, and economic value of the 1.3 billion people living with disabilities worldwide. Leveraging the collective force of committed companies, the Valuable 500 work together to:

  • Provide peer support to executive business leaders to increase their confidence and competence in disability inclusion
  • Operationalize disability inclusion across the value chain by providing tools for companies to advance their disability inclusion efforts
  • Share best practices and benchmarks to assist companies in meeting their commitments and responsibilities to disability inclusion


“Taking incremental steps is the best way to any change,” says Mndebele.

To achieve a solid and equitable recovery from the impacts of COVID-19, companies need to ensure the needs of people with disabilities are deliberately considered in their economic and workforce recovery plans. Because people with disabilities face disproportionate consequences of COVID-19, it will be critical to ensure adequate protection and support are available to them to promote opportunities for safe and sustainable work.

Bandile Mndebele, Client Onboarding and Change Analyst for Ninety One, will be facilitating a panel discussion and exploring further insights at the Worldwide ERC Spring Virtual Conference May 17- May 19 in a session titled Silent Disabilities in Diversity.

For more information on the Spring Virtual Conference, click here. Registration is just $150 for the two-day event, and attendees can earn up to 24 total continuing education units for (S)GMS®/(S)GMS-T® and (S)CRP® recertifications through viewing the live and recorded sessions.