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How can the gig economy impact disability inclusion?

image with blue background and "the gig economy"

Viewing the world through both a disability and an employment lens is a habit. And a key question in the forefront of my brain is “What will this/the next trend mean for job seekers and those currently employed who have disabilities?”

Recently, I was reflecting on the trend of the gig economy. How does it help disability inclusion?

First, what is gig economy

Google defines it as “a labor market characterized by the prevalence of short-term contracts or freelance work as opposed to permanent jobs”[1].

And it is now 20-30% of the work done by people of working age in the US and EU-15[2].

Second, how can it help inclusion?

I think it can help in 2 ways –

1. It mainstreams connection. No longer is a person with a disability dependent on a disability service agency to arrange for many (non-disability related) services. Now, online marketplaces like Uber, TaskRabbit, and other online marketplaces connect mainstream freelancers (to provide services like delivery, odd jobs, errand running, and transportation) to all customers, including pwd and increases the chance of a person with limited/no experience with disability interacting with people with disabilities. The availability of anyone to do these services decreases the perception that one needs special skills to interact with people with disabilities.

2. This employment model offers options for people who need to customize their work and/or work environment due to disability. No longer are people with disabilities dependent on disability service agencies to arrange a customized employment situation, a person with a disability can now customize their own and join the online business community without a needed disability specific intermediary.

These immediate and easily accessible avenues shrink the divide (real and perceived) between people with disabilities and those without … or those with apparent disabilities and those without (or however you want to draw the line on the spectrum of ability). And will help accelerate the phenomenon we have been experiencing where the youth of today do not notice disability as much as we did in our youth. Because their entire childhood included people with disabilities in school and recreational activities. This isn’t to say that there isn’t still separation, but it is markedly less than it was 30 years ago.

The gig economy is not a panacea nor is it free from accessibility challenges. However, it helps to erase some of the perceived “us and them” and create common ground for people across the ability spectrum.

[1]Google search “what is gig economy”

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