Flexible work critics are using the same arguments that were used against disabled ramps and closed captioning. Equity of access should never be optional


In the context provided, the disability community experienced significant improvements in employment opportunities during the pandemic, largely due to flexible work options that align well with the concept of "crip time." This concept challenges the non-disabled notion of time as fixed and linear and recognizes that different bodies and minds experience time differently. Disabled individuals, including those with autism, often need to adapt their schedules, routines, social interactions, and sensory tolerance to their unique abilities and challenges.

One crucial aspect of disability accommodation is the idea of "equity of access," which should never be optional. The disability community has long advocated for the flexibility of hybrid work as an accommodation, but pre-pandemic, it was deemed unfeasible or financially impractical. However, these models suddenly became convenient and financially viable when the non-disabled world needed them. This excuse of financial viability has been historically used to justify the lack of architectural modifications for the physically disabled or the implementation of closed captioning for the deaf. Yet, features like ramps and closed captioning benefit everyone, such as young parents with strollers or people carrying suitcases.

It is concerning to see companies like Twitter and Amazon pushing for a return to in-person work, as it sets a precedent that autism accommodations are only optional and provided when convenient, particularly in critical areas like education and employment. Instead of discarding the hybrid model, efforts should be made to develop technological advancements that can lower costs and facilitate the implementation of hybrid work arrangements.

Hybrid work environments address core features of autism, such as social communication challenges and sensory sensitivities. Moreover, they provide greater accessibility and opportunities for a significant portion of the autistic population who previously faced barriers to access in areas like employment and education. These models have also proven to enhance productivity for many disabled individuals, including those in the autism community, contrary to mainstream concerns regarding reduced networking and socialization.

The author, a Ph.D. student, identifies as autistic and works as an autism researcher. They personally experience various obstacles in their everyday life, including limited speaking ability and health issues. As an academic, attending conferences poses challenges, and having hybrid options would allow autistic participants to join remotely or selectively attend sessions from the comfort of their hotel rooms, depending on their sensory needs and capabilities. This flexibility would minimize extended periods of stressful in-person experiences and disruptions to familiar routines and spaces that are important to autistics.

Large conferences present sensory overstimulation, which is commonly associated with autism. The crowded poster presentation rooms, for example, can be overwhelming, making it difficult for autistics to function properly. While some conferences may provide sensory break rooms, it's not guaranteed that the room will be available when multiple autistics require it simultaneously.

Even within the autism community, there are disagreements regarding reasonable accommodations. Preferences can vary, from lighting conditions to the presence of emotional support dogs, creating potential clashes. Deciding whose needs should take priority and who gets to make that decision raises important questions for the autism community to address.

For many individuals, including autistic individuals, hybrid work is not a convenience but a necessary and reasonable accommodation. The author, Hari Srinivasan, is a Ph.D. Neuroscience student at Vanderbilt, a PD Soros Fellow, a Public Voices Fellow of The OpEd Project, a Fellow at the Frist Center for Autism and Innovation, and a non-federal member of NIMH's Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee. 

According to a new report from the McKinsey Global Institute, lower-wage workers are most likely to be replaced by advancements in artificial intelligence (AI). However, this doesn't necessarily mean mass job loss as these workers are expected to find higher-paying jobs in different industries, reflecting an ongoing trend. Higher-wage earners will also be affected by AI, but they are less likely to face unemployment. Instead, their job roles will shift and change. Automation, accelerated by the pandemic, has already led to the displacement of low-wage workers in fields such as office support, food service, customer service, and production work. Generative AI will further accelerate these changes, with around 30% of activities being potentially automated. The report states that approximately 11.8 million workers in these occupations may need to find new jobs by 2030. Some will transition into higher-paying roles within the same industry, while others may need to shift to entirely different industries. Workers earning $38,200 or less annually are up to 14 times more likely to require a change in occupation compared to higher earners. 

It is important to note that these job categories account for 39% of all jobs in the United States. The report emphasizes that the fate of these workers is a crucial question for the workforce today. McKinsey's analysis suggests a positive outcome based on past trends, where 8.6 million workers switched occupations or moved into higher-paying work from 2019 to 2022. This demonstrates the potential for job growth in higher-paying fields resulting from AI and technological advancements. Given the current labor shortage in the U.S., employers will likely need these displaced workers. The report recommends that employers relax certain hiring requirements, such as educational qualifications, and expand training opportunities. Although the transition may have its challenges, technological advancements could ultimately lead to many workers transitioning to better-paying jobs. 

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