The past year and the pandemic has made remote work an accepted reality for thousands of workers. This has been a "silver lining" of expanding and normalizing a common reasonable accommodation request long championed by workers with disabilities. Microsoft has dramatically expanded their accessibility features, including built-in speech to text technology which makes it possible for people with even the most limited mobility to use computers. This, along with free instant captioning on Zoom and other breakthroughs, has opened an unprecedented window for people with disabilities to contribute to the success of nonprofits, communities and beyond. Remote work also has great promise at expanding apprenticeship programs into more diverse sectors of the American economy, especially the knowledge economy. RespectAbility has retooled our own National Leadership Program from being a cohort-based, Washington D.C.-located internship program into an all-virtual, work-from-anywhere skills-based training program. Such approaches have major implications for efforts to train workers for good paying jobs in the knowledge economy and the non-profit sector.
Now, it is critical to note that as part of our organizational evolution and program development, we have grounded our fellowship program in a thorough curriculum that reflects lessons learned on implementing an equity based organizational culture. From using preferred pronouns, to recruiting candidates from diverse secondary education institutions, we have striven to offer our program to the widest, most diverse pool of candidates with disabilities that we can possibly recruit. We have learned and documented valuable lessons that can easily be replicated in other venues and for other virtual, cohort-based workforce programs.