Five reasons why digital work may help promote inclusion of youth with disabilities

Namita Datta & Sunamika Singh

Digital jobs are opening up important new work opportunities for youth with disabilities in developing countries.  The COVID‒19 pandemic has accelerated the expansion of jobs which offer flexibility, accommodations for disability and functional access for remote communities.

In our new report “Digital Jobs for Youth with Disabilities,” S4YE highlights strategies that programs have used to increase inclusion of youth with disabilities in digital jobs.

Here are five reasons why recent developments in digital work opportunities may present an opportunity to ramp up efforts to include youth with disabilities

1.    New forms of work through flexible, remote, digital gig jobs can provide opportunities to include those with disabilities 

Technological advances have given rise to a growing digital economy, creating new forms of digital job opportunities such as business process outsourcing and digital ‘gig’ jobs. An impact sourcing model, taking offshored digital work and directing it towards workers and areas that would not typically access it, can provide a meaningful business-led approach to engage youth with disabilities.  e.g., Digital Divide Data(DDD) in Cambodia and  Enablecode in Vietnam are both social enterprises which work with youth with physical disabilities to connect them to outsourced digital jobs.

Microwork can be especially helpful as a starting point for remote populations, like those in fragile, conflict and violent (FCV) contexts,  with low digital skills, mobility constraints and limited access to  local jobs. Online work experience can help youth with disabilities establish a work history and develop a professional network that can help expand more opportunities in future.  Recent studies have found that, online work can also help youth with disabilities to build a sense of self-worth and empowerment that is combined with feelings of creativity, and social contribution.

2.    Recent developments in assistive technology solutions can help level the playing the field

Digital tools can support people with disabilities to perform tasks that they might otherwise be unable to do effectively.  Thus, making  youth with disabilities suitable candidates for jobs, irrespective of their disability, and create more inclusive workplaces. Some examples are below.

Tech solutions for different types of disabilities

Tech solutions for different types of disabilities. Source: s4ye.org
An increase in accessible online recruitment platforms (e.g., JobAbility) can offer youth with disabilities direct access to employment and employers, thus  expanding their access to the traditional labor market.

3.    Technology solutions can be used to provide experience with life like situations, essential to develop skills for work

Youth with disabilities who have been beneficiaries of charities often lack confidence when entering a workplace. Innovative simulations like in Accenture’s Skills to Succeed Academy, which does skill building though bite-sized, gamified modules with relatable characters, help provide youth with disabilities a safe learning environment and build confidence.

Also, business simulations, like Youth Business International’s ‘The Digital Entrepreneur Experience Simulator’ (DEES), have the potential to train youth with disabilities on entrepreneurship skills. These have been used extensively to train workers in finance, hospitality etc. and provide persons with disabilities the opportunities to experience personalized learning close to real-life business development process.

4.    Digital entrepreneurship opportunities, although limited, may also become more inclusive over time.

With the emergence of online platforms, new possibilities of digital entrepreneurship have emerged. Youth with disabilities with digital enterprises may now have more opportunities to find and interact with clients and sell their goods and services across physical and infrastructural barriers  (e.g., Alibaba). Accessible mobile applications for financial transactions can allow entrepreneurs with disabilities to mainstream their operations and improve efficiency. Private sector engagement in supplier diversity programs can also improve access to markets for youth with disabilities. For example, Google runs a small business supplier diversity program that includes disability-owned small businesses.

5.    Digital jobs can especially  help provide young women with disabilities, an opportunity to earn income. 

Digital jobs can be advantageous for young women with disabilities who experience additional workplace discrimination, limiting their advancement opportunities , and facing societal or family pressure that discourages their formal employment.

Digital skills can help young women with disabilities who are often homebound to access income-earning opportunities through online outsourcing and e-lancing. 

While digital jobs offer many new opportunities for youth with disabilities, there are also challenges for policymakers to consider. These include lack of accessibility and affordability of digital tools, inherent but unspoken biases of online platforms, lack of adequate social protection measures, and risks of isolation.

This blog is part of a series about jobs for youth with disabilities. In our next blog, we will discuss a few ways of engaging the private sector to hire more youth with disabilities

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