How the Gig Economy impacts People with Disabilities

Sheri Byrne-Haber, CPACC
5 min readJun 3, 2019

Participating in the gig economy is a mixed bag and not even always available to people with disabilities

For those of you who have been living under a rock for the last five years, a gig economy engagement is defined as full-time or part time contract as an independent workers for a short-term engagements.

With more than 36 percent of U.S. workers participating in a gig work arrangement, gigs have gone from being something reserved for musicians to something deeply entrenched in our social consciousness as both providers and participants.

Some of the benefits frequently cited by gig economy proponents include freedom, flexibility and low business overhead. Technology is a central requirement to perform gig freelance work. Only a smartphone and access to WiFi or an unlimited data plan are required, and most participants are good to go.

Upsides

Freedom and flexibility are highly beneficial to people with disabilities. People with disabilities are more likely for example to need time off for doctors appointments, therapy sessions, or to just rest if they don’t have the stamina to work more than a couple of hours consecutively. While those restrictions make it hard to hold down a full-time job, participating in a “gig economy” where one can work any time they want for as long as they want may fit within those parameters.

Less engagement bias — Gigs measure results, not process. There is no one staring at you in your wheelchair during an interview thinking “this person can’t possibly do this job.” Gig service providers take almost all comers, and if you can’t get the job done, the bad reviews will end the gigs, not bias.

There have been some celebrated successes with people with disabilities and the gig economy. One of the highest Uber Eats ratings is held by a wheelchair user who delivers meals in a 4 mile radius in downtown Miami. And Lyft partnered with NAD to put more deaf drivers in the Lyft system. Waze allows me to inform potential carpoolers that I drive with hand controls. But despite these anecdotal positive stories, there are many negatives to the gig economy that we don’t hear about.

Downsides

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Sheri Byrne-Haber, CPACC

LinkedIn Top Voice for Social Impact 2022. UX Collective Author of the Year 2020. Disability Inclusion SME. Sr Staff Accessibility Architect @ VMware.