The gig economy offers unparalleled options for everyone. Whether it be working remotely, flexibility, or opportunities around the globe, they’re all there for the taking. But, one aspect many don’t frequently think about, and should, is the opportunities that don’t concern the able-bodied. Gig workers with disabilities are out there, and they’re trying to seize the day just as much as everyone else. Therefore, today we’ll take a look at how the gig economy impacts workers with disabilities. What are the challenges and unique pros and cons this type of work offers for them? Let’s take a look.

Right now, the gig economy is booming, and with good reason. We estimate that over 50% of people are participating in some form of gig economy arrangement (although Forbes gives a lower number of 36%) in the US alone. And this is not just because the gig economy is a profitable way to do business, but also:

  • A great way to do work on your own terms, whether it be full-time, part-time, or remotely.
  • It’s got a very low barrier of entry.
  • You don’t have to be anywhere in particular to participate. Just having good Wi-Fi and a smart device is enough.

As you can see, these things alone can help gig workers with disabilities a great deal. After all, not having to commute, and being able to work from their homes probably aids a great deal. But, what about their place in the gig economy overall? What are the upsides and downsides for them?

Let’s dive in:

Upsides for Gig Workers with Disabilities

Flexibility and Doing Things on Their Own Terms

One of the main benefits of the gig economy touted by workers is flexibility. Things like managing schedules, more time off, and increased levels of freedom across the board are good for everyone. But, gig workers with disabilities, in particular, can benefit from these things even more than an able-bodied person. While taking time off is a necessity that most workers will have to make use of at some point, gig workers with disabilities may require:

  • Regular doctor’s appointments.
  • Therapy or counseling.
  • Emergency sessions.

And things don’t end there. Some, for instance, may not feel physically up to putting in long hours at work in one go. Gig work can help them ease reduce their anxiety about whether they will get the job done, and engage with it when they can give it their 110%. So, this already gives gig workers with disabilities a big help, as where working a full-time job may be hard, gig work shines.

To add to this, in a previous article we wrote the following:

What does this mean, in short? First, it means that they can engage with as much work, or as little as they deem fit (as long as the numbers add up). Second, that they can do work for as many clients as they need. Third, and last, gig workers can set their own schedules and approach work in a way that makes sense to them

It’s About Results

Another part where the gig economy shines is caring about results, not process. What matters is that the deadlines are met, not how we get there. And, incredibly, this can even lead to increased productivity! In the article quoted above, we wrote:

Overwhelmingly, people who work in remote, distributed teams, and are part of the gig economy enjoy a much-improved work/life balance. Added to this, they become even more productive than they typically are while sitting in an office. This happens mainly because they are able to do more work in less time — effectively, they’re making smarter,  better use of their time. After, they can spend the rest of their time doing what they want. And, even more so, they can spend it doing it wherever they want, due to the perks of working remotely. It doesn’t matter whether you’re living on a quaint mountain farm or in the middle of a city, as long as you’ve got reliable Wi-Fi.

For gig workers with disabilities, this comes down to a reduced engagement bias. Meaning, it’s less likely for people to allow their prejudices to color their opinion of a gig worker. In the gig economy, service providers take on anyone who has proven they can do a job reliably; it doesn’t matter whether they’re in a wheelchair, in bed, or anything else. As long as they can do the job, they have as many opportunities as everyone else.

But what about anti-discrimination laws, like the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act)? Sadly, many employers are still finding workarounds and loopholes. But, in the gig economy, none of that matters. For instance, did you know that the highest-ever Uber Eats score is held by a wheelchair user?

World-Based, not Location-Based

Not too long ago, companies and workers had to make do just with the talent in their general vicinity. This was doubly hard for people with disabilities, as it’s no surprise that things like long commutes, or having to travel long distances may present difficulties. This, in turn, may have led potential employers to not take them into account, or for workers to take themselves out of the running for a potential position.

But now, we’re no longer bound by such conventions. Gig economy workers with disabilities can access any job of their choosing, anywhere in the world. With more and more companies embracing remote work, workers can be at a location that is convenient and suits their needs and never have to miss a beat. As long as they can deliver on time, that’s it!

But, as we said above, this article is about the pros and cons for gig workers with disabilities. Below, we’ll take a look at some considerations that, in our view, still merit some concern.

Gig Workers with Disabilities

Downsides for Gig Economy Workers with Disabilities

Unstable Finances

Stability is the main reason why people flock to 9-5 jobs. And, sadly, even those workers with disabilities with access to medical care may have to foot hefty bills. For gig workers with disabilities, not knowing how much they’re going to be making month-to-month can be a significant source of stress. If their gig economy service provider raises fees, or their employer reduces wages per job, they may be looking at an issue even more serious than not making it to the end of the month.

And yes, it’s true that this issue may affect everyone. But it affects gig economy workers with disabilities even more, as do the other issues on this list.

Assistive Technology and Access to Gigs

People who are blind or have hearing impairments are usually not priorities for gig economy service providers. Users who require screen readers, for instance, can’t access buttons if they’re not labeled properly for their technology, and they can’t access or offer their services on apps. In addition, many apps don’t offer compatibility for hearing aids either, compounding the problem for hard-of-hearing folk.

Lack of Benefits and Legal Framework

Paid vacation, disability payments, and other benefits go out of the window for gig economy workers with disabilities. As of 2021, courts have ruled that gig workers are not employees per se. And, as per that ruling, that means that gig workers don’t receive:

  • Paid vacation time
  • Health insurance (a must for gig workers with disabilities)
  • Social security
  • Retirement plans
  • Unemployment

As you can see, this can be an extremely important issue for people with disabilities. If they’re not in a stable position from the get-go, it might make their insertion into the gig economy a very hard proposition indeed.

Even more so, gig work is still operating within a pretty shaky legal framework. In some cases, doing gig work could eliminate some people’s disability status. If a gig worker with disabilities earns too much, it might undermine their chances to be eligible for Medicaid or Section 8 housing. Thus, they should definitely take a look at their options before getting started with gig work, especially if they’re in high-earning professions.

Keeping Time

Many gig economy apps don’t keep hourly times, but what we refer to as “piecemeal times.” These fractioned times are very common in delivery apps like Uber Eats, for example. There, every little “microtask” is quantified. But, as you can probably tell, gig workers with disabilities usually face many more challenges than able-bodied ones. Performing a task like getting out of a car may be an afterthought for many people, but not for a disabled one. Yet, their efficiency is assessed in exactly the same way.

As a result, what may take 20 minutes of total “driving” for two people, may be like 50 minutes of total work for the disabled one. And, of course, these types of inequalities are applicable to many other industries. We should strive to create payment methods and assessments that take into account everyone’s different realities.

Summing Up

GIg workers with disabilities have more opportunities than before, yes. But, their realities are seldom simple, and neither are the solutions. In order to accommodate everyone, our industry will have to find solutions that aim to make workers feel more at home and feel that their well-being is safeguarded. While gig workers have access to hitherto unheard-of job flexibility and opportunities, we should not rest on our laurels.

There’s still a ways to go before we’ve created a job market that’s as inclusive and equal-opportunity as we’ve been striving to create for years at Bunny Studio. For that, we will continue doing our best to inform our users about the state-of-the-art in this industry, as well as ways to fix what needs fixing, and to make the good even better.