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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The pandemic normalized working from home, and that could open doors for America’s workers with disabilities.

The big picture: All sorts of hurdles — like getting to work if you’re in a wheelchair or adjusting to office environments if you’re a person with autism — are eliminated by remote work. This new future could be a more inclusive one for all Americans.

The backdrop: Just four in ten working-age adults with one or more disabilities are employed, per Brookings.

  • Education isn't a factor. The employment rate among college-educated adults with disabilities is 59%, compared with 69% for college-educated adults without disabilities.

What's happening: Drivers of this troubling trend include rampant discrimination in the hiring process as well as the fact that most cities' central business districts – where all the jobs are — are very inaccessible.

  • Everything from out-of-order elevators in the subway to closely-packed tables at coffee shops and uneven sidewalks can make cities unnavigable, the Guardian reports.
  • But when remote work took off during the pandemic, a lot of these barriers melted away.

Case in point: Kristen Parisi, a writer in New York who uses a wheelchair, has always wanted a remote job so she can focus on her work and not worry about her commute. But "working from home was looked at as a privilege, and none of the really desirable jobs were remote," she says. "Remote work was part of the discussion, but not a realistic part of the discussion."

  • The pandemic changed everything overnight. Now Parisi has a remote job and will never have to leave her home to go to work.

There are so many other examples of disabilities or chronic illnesses that can be addressed with telework, experts tell Axios.

  • Blind and deaf workers can do their jobs within their own environments without stressing about getting to the office.
  • Employees with autism can choose to stay home if they'd rather avoid difficult office spaces.
  • Workers with conditions like Crohn's disease or irritable bowel syndrome can work from their own areas with reliable access to a bathroom.

The remote revolution could help college students with disabilities, too, says Michelle Nario-Redmond, a psychology professor at Hiram College and author of Ableism: The Causes and Consequences of Disability Prejudice.

  • Too often, students with disabilities choose lectures and seminars based on whether or not they can access them instead of whether or not they're interested in the course material. The inclusivity of virtual learning could fix that problem.

"It’s been so difficult for disabled people to get their employers to consider remote work," Nario-Redmond says. "This is a silver lining. For so many disabled workers, you’re more efficient, you can attend more meetings and your home environment is already tailored to you."

What to watch: Surveys show that most Americans want remote work to stick around after the pandemic is behind us.

  • But "watching some companies call their employees back breaks my heart," Parisi tells me. "My fear is that companies are going to have a very short memory and go back to the way things were."

Go deeper

Xbox executive calls for more diversity in gaming

Photo illustration: Axios Visuals. Photos: Xbox, Phil Barker/Future Publishing via Getty Images

Xbox executive Sarah Bond described her determination to make an impact through her work in expanding Xbox's outreach to diverse game creators, in an interview with Axios.

The big picture: The number of Black people in the games industry has hovered around 2% for 30 years, according to the advocacy group Black in Gaming.

17 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Biden taps Russia expert for key Pentagon job

Celeste Wallander. Photo: Department of Defense

President Biden is nominating Celeste Wallander as his assistant secretary of Defense for international security affairs, a crucial position and one of his last remaining foreign policy posts, Axios has learned.

The big picture: By tapping Wallander, president and CEO of U.S.-Russia Foundation, Biden is rounding out his Pentagon team with an academic and Russia expert respected on both sides of the aisle.

27 mins ago - World

Scoop: After U.S. pressure, Israel joins statement criticizing China

The Israeli and Chinese flags displayed during a visit to Beijing by Benjamin Netanyahu in 2013. Photo: Mark Ralston/AFP via Getty

Israel supported a statement criticizing China at the UN Human Rights Council after being pressured to do so by the Biden administration, U.S. and Israeli officials tell me.

Why it matters: This is a significant policy change from Israel's newly inaugurated government. Under former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel refrained from voicing any criticism about human rights violations in China — pushing for closer ties with Beijing and resisting pressure from the Trump administration to limit Chinese investments in Israel.