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Rethinking Labour Market Inclusion – Platforms and people with disabilities

Rethinking Labour Market Inclusion – Platforms and people with disabilities

 
Mr. Zachary Kilhoffer, Centre for European Policy Studies – CEPS
Dr. Sara Baiocco, Centre for European Policy Studies – CEPS
Division: Sociology & Humanities
 
Digitalisation is drastically changing labour markets. One key example in this narrative is the growth of platform work – the matching of supply and demand for paid work through a digital platform. Platform work has the potential to increase labour market access for groups of people traditionally facing marginalisation in the labour market, such as people with disabilities.
People with disabilities can benefit from services intermediated through digital platforms. For example, platforms offer new ways to purchase personal care and transportation on-demand. In addition to making everyday life easier, improved access to such services can facilitate labour market participation for people with disabilities. Moreover, a growing body of evidence suggests that platform work could offer people with disabilities flexible opportunities to participate in the labour market, such as working from home at their convenience.
On the contrary, others caution that people with disabilities could be excluded from economic and social advances associated with the platform economy. If platforms are inaccessible to people with disabilities, then disparities may only deepen.
In light of these points, this paper investigates the effects of platforms – both opportunities and challenges – on people with disabilities. The paper is intended to provide brief, timely policy recommendations to stakeholders. To do so, we examine the following research question:
To what extent do platforms enable people with disabilities in the EU to access labour markets? We examine the issue considering people with disabilities both as clients, receiving services via platforms, as well as workers, performing paid platform work.
In this paper, we rely on thorough desk research as well as stakeholder consultation, specifically through semi-structured interviews with a diverse group of experts and stakeholders. We begin with a discussion of the European inclusion framework, highlighting that platforms could be a digital tool to help realise European goals, including independent living, and social and economic inclusion for people with disabilities. Key treaties, directives, and other legal tools are discussed with attention to their concrete implications for people with disabilities, and connection to platforms.
We then proceed to discuss the results of the desk research and field work on the research question, finding a number of points to be broadly true. Some existing literature discusses platform work and people with disabilities, but it more often portrays people with disabilities as clients rather than workers. Nevertheless, people with disabilities make up a disproportionate amount of workers on some notable platforms. Experts largely agreed that platforms represent a chance for certain people with disabilities to increase participation in the labour market. However, this potential is not fully realised, largely due to a lack of awareness and digital competencies. Moreover, platform work – particularly when performed from home – could exacerbate the risk of social exclusion. Thus, any potential benefit to labour market inclusion must be weighed against other goals, such as broader social inclusion.
Next, the paper presents several best practices to demonstrate exemplary organisations and initiatives. These best practices are selected with a view to provide stakeholders with innovative ideas to upscale and replicate. Potential case studies include the following:

  • Ava is a platform to intermediate the supply and demand for personal assistance, primarily for people with disabilities. By incorporating principles from both labour and dating platforms, Ava discreetly matches clients with service providers, reducing frictions between supply and demand.
  • BeMyEyes is a platform matching volunteers with clients – people with blindness or visual impairment – to aid in daily tasks. Through a livestream smartphone connection, volunteers might, for example, read text, give directions, or otherwise interpret and describe the users’ surroundings. Evidence suggests that a number of beneficiaries profit from BeMyEyes in their professional as well as personal lives.
  • The goal of Ilunion is to increase inclusion for people with disabilities in the labour market. People with disabilities represent 40% of Ilunion’s employees, and they benefit from a platform-like model of “in-sourcing”. This combines the benefits of platform work with the inclusion and stability of traditional employment.
  • Specialisterne is a social enterprise with the main goal to prepare people from the autism spectrum for suitable jobs. In addition to a highly-specialised training and job placements programme, Specialisterne can act as a type of labour platform, intermediating tasks between its own employees, and a variety of companies and clients.
  • The platform Uber has implemented tools in its app for deaf and hard of hearing passengers, as well as drivers, to communicate with one another. This has opened up a traditional field of work (personal transportation) to a select group of people with disabilities.

Lastly, a conclusion section brings together key points and raises policy recommendations for EU policy-makers.