The Reality of Remote Work for People with Disabilities: A Response to Mayor Frey’s Remarks

So it was disappointing but not surprising to hear Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey tag those of us who work at […]

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So it was disappointing but not surprising to hear Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey tag those of us who work at home with the “L” word in a speech to the Minneapolis Downtown Council.

The “loser” comment was explained (badly) as an attempt at humor by the mayor.

For people who live with disabilities, it’s not funny at all. And it’s rather dismaying to note that some “business leaders” laughed.

Thanks to Axios and the Star Tribune for giving us this mayoral quote:

“I don’t know if you saw this study the other day, but what this study clearly showed: When people who have the ability to come downtown to an office don’t — when they stay home sitting on their couch, with their nasty cat blanket, diddling on their laptop … if they do that for a few months, you become a loser! We’re not losers, are we?”

Well, Mayor Frey, this loser takes exception to your attempt at humor.

Let me talk to you about disabilities. I live with several. Today it took me 15 minutes to get out of bed because of mobility issues. Some people have bad hair days. I have bad knee, back and hands days.

That’s typical of my community, of Minnesotans with disabilities. This is us:

One in four of us will develop a disability during our lifetime. One slip on the ice, one serious motor vehicle accident, one major illness and you’re part of the group. Welcome!

According to Minnesota Compass, about 12 percent of Minnesotans reported having a disability.

Keep in mind that the percentage is likely much higher. Living with disabilities means disclosing those that are invisible. Some choose to not disclose disability status because frankly, such disclosure can hold us back. It held me back.

We face higher unemployment than the rest of the population. The most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics information states that in 2022, 21.3 percent of persons with a disability were employed, up from 19.1 percent in 2021. For persons without a disability, 65.4 percent were employed in 2022, up from 63.7 percent in the prior year.

Many in the disability community would like to work. But we all too often cannot find workplaces with adequate accommodations.

Remote work has allowed many of us to find meaningful jobs, to support ourselves and to contribute to society. If the COVID-19 pandemic had any positive effect, it proved that remote work “works.” It opened doors that were not opened before.

Those of us with disabilities are not the remote workers who bought fancy homes in beautiful places, and then complained because we had to appear in the office a few times a week. We might be home with a cat blanket but it’s likely in a pretty modest place.

We’re the losers who struggle with mobility. We’re the losers who cope with an array of sensory issues.

We’re the losers who need assistive technology to hear, to see and to do our work. We’re the losers who may need a personal care attendant so that we can live our lives.

I edit Access Press, a statewide newspaper and website for Minnesotans with disabilities. I all too often hear stories similar to what I heard for decades.

“We’re frankly worried that you have been hospitalized for (insert disability here).”

“We’re not sure you can do the job with your disabilities.”

Hearing about opportunities denied is heartbreaking, not only because I have been there, done that. I dislike seeing anyone denied opportunities.

Remote work makes employment possible for many of us. Many of us would love to work in an office with colleagues, even to be able to go out for lunch. We’d love to have or have had that opportunity. We’re just glad to work at all.

I’m glad I didn’t go to high school with Mayor Frey. He might have shoved me into a locker. (Bullying is an issue in the disability community too.)

Mayor Frey, please do better. Be better.

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