Virtual Exclusion and Telework: The Double-edged Sword of Technocentric Workplace Accommodation Policy

Paul M.A. Baker

Workplaces are complex social communities, in which social capital plays no small part (Burt 1995, Wellman, et. al, 1996). The productive and efficacious achievement of tasks (that is "doing work") frequently requires the flow of information and interactive engagement with coworkers. Given the current level of technology this could be somewhat problematic in a virtual work (teleworking) environment. From a policy standpoint, this leads to the question of "how can we design policy to facilitate the integration of people with disabilities into the workplace in such a way as to optimize their interactions with other workers?" Much of the extant policy-related research involving telework focuses on addressing the technological or physical issues surrounding implementation of remote/offsite work functions. Historically, people with disabilities have faced many challenges in finding occupations and positions that allowed active participation in the workplace. As a result, this group of people has been marginalized and their workplace contributions either limited or undervalued. Although some advances have been made by the introduction of assistive technologies, there are significant benefits for both businesses and workers with disabilities in enhanced integration.

Teleworking, which makes use of information communication technologies (ICTs), is a promising way of further integrating people with disabilities into the workplace. However this may be a case of "necessary but not sufficient." The use of appropriate ICTs increases the range of jobs for which people with disabilities are qualified, mitigates many of the boundaries associated with transportation and the physical characteristics of the workplace environment, and permits active worker communication and inter-worker interactions. At the same time, policymakers need to be wary of creating an entire group of workers who are physically isolated and socially stigmatized by their reliance on the use of ICTs for participating in the workplace. This paper examines both the positive aspects and the negative concerns associated with the increasing use of telework and other ICT strategies for promoting integration of people with disabilities into the workplace.

Presentation Slides:
Slides 1-12

Paul M.A. Baker, Ph.D. is the Associate Director of Policy Research for the Office of Technology Policy and Programs at GCATT, and Editor of their white paper series. Dr. Baker holds the rank of Senior Research Scientist for the Georgia Institute of Technology and is the Wireless RERC Project Director of "Policy Initiatives" to support universal access. He is also an affiliate Assistant Professor at the George Mason University School of Public Policy in Fairfax, Virginia, and the former Associate Director of Undergraduate Studies at the Georgia Institute of Technology, School of Public Policy. He taught courses in the areas of public administration, information policy and state and local government policy making. Dr. Baker is currently researching institutional issues involved in public sector information policy development and state and local government use of information and communication technologies (ICTs). He holds a Ph.D. in Public Policy from George Mason University, an M.P. in Urban Planning from the University of Virginia, and an M.A. in International Commerce and Policy from George Mason University.

Andrew C. Ward, Ph.D., MPH, Health Services Research Policy and Administration, School of Public Health, University of Minnesota.

Presentation from the 'Workplace Accommodations: State of the Science' conference, September 15-16, 2005, Atlanta, GA