A Qualitative Study of the Landscape of Gig Work for People Living with Disabilities and Future Recommendations for Best Practices
As the gig economy becomes more prevalent, some economists and social scientists have theorized that individuals with disabilities may start to make up a large percentage of the gig work population (Dobson, 2017; Harpur & Blanck, 2020). The most recent data appears to support this claim, with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reporting that significantly more disabled people are involved in self-employment related work and opportunities than nondisabled individuals (BLS, 2022).
A small body of research exists looking at the reasons that people with disabilities are seeking more self-employment and gig-related work, but none that asks about consequent experiences in the gig economy for this population. What are the benefits and drawbacks? Are there different sectors of gig work that are more disability-friendly than others?
In our study, we set out to carry forward the foundational research that’s been laid and address these questions and others.
Participants were asked to provide their opinion on what they’d like to see for the future of the gig economy, especially in the way of improving opportunities and working conditions for people living with disabilities.
Educating the Public
The largest suggestion proposed, 67% (n=14) want to see the general public more educated on their lived experience and seeing them as capable people:
“I think it would be nice to raise awareness on the importance of treating people with disabilities with respect, as much as we treat someone else. You know, it’s never nice to treat someone with a disability as if you’re stigmatizing that person.” – Participant 12
Protection from the government
Following public education, an equally felt sentiment (67%, n=14) was the need for government regulation and better policies in place to support gig workers:
“With income insecurity and benefits and stuff, I think what the government should do is put policies in the organizations where gig work is being conducted, so as to ensure that the financial security of the gig worker is maintained.”
– Participant 12
Others were critical of the role that the government could feasibly have in regulating the industry, but still felt there were opportunities for them to provide assistance:
“So I think it might be hard for governments to jump into the gig economy because at the moment, it’s actually going to take out the flavor of it being about having a lot of flexibility. I think what the government can do is more like provide support for people who are in the gig economy. They could provide support for insurance saving or for pension savings.”
– Participant 13
A gig workers’ association or board
When asked about what they’d like to see happen in the future of the gig economy, a smaller portion of participant 33% (n=7) shared the idea of a gig workers’ group that could serve a variety of functions. For some, this resembled something like a union that could offer protection:
“You should have that protection where there’s an agency you can talk to that can protect you, where you can learn your legal rights. They can back you up and once that happens you have that sense of protection.”
– Participant 13
For others, this looked more like a social community where peers provide disability-friendly support in the context of gig work:
“I think we should create a platform where people with disabilities come together to share their opinions, their experiences, and their point of view. That will help them to have a sense of belonging and help them have passion for their work.”
– Participant 18
More obscure observations from our work suggest that the above focuses are not the only stressors and advantages that PLWD are facing. A select few studies have mentioned racial discrimination in certain fields of gig work (Curran, 2023) and gender inequity (Cook et al., 2021), but none so far have touched on disability-related stigma and discrimination.
Read Full Research Report
As the gig economy continues to expand, discussions around equity and safety for the industry’s workers will continue to be a crucial discussion to which future researchers should pay attention.
Please read through the full report and share it with your network to raise awareness.
Interested in our Research Team Speaking on this topic?