Advances in the digital economy significantly accelerated by Covid-19 pandemic are creating unprecedented opportunities to build a more inclusive world of work for the more than one billion people with disabilities globally, according to a new report from the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

However, digital barriers also threaten to aggravate existing inequalities and exclusion unless they are countered with effective and targeted initiatives.

The report titled ‘An inclusive digital economy for people with disabilities’ was prepared by ILO Global Business and Disability Network (GBDN) and Spanish disability NGO Fundacion ONCE.

It looks at the effects of the digital revolution on the creation of new jobs, changes to existing roles and work models as well as online recruitment processes. It also highlights key areas for action by different groups of stakeholders including the digital industry, academia, governments, workers and employers, and people with disabilities themselves.

The report highlights three main levers for creating a more inclusive digital labour market for persons with disabilities: ensuring accessibility, fostering digital skills, and promoting digital employment.

The increase in digital work creates acute problems for those without the necessary skills or equipment, the study says, pointing out that, due to persistent exclusion, people with disabilities generally have lower levels of education and training than their peers without disabilities.

Hence, reskilling and upskilling will be key to building an inclusive future of work, alongside initiatives to foster digital employment and support collaboration between relevant stakeholders. Assistive technologies can also open up new occupations and opportunities.

However, the report warns that a lack of accessible assistive technologies can create new barriers because without it many essential digital tools will not be usable by people with disabilities.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated trends already present in the world of work, including the expansion of the digital economy,” said Manuela Tomei, Director of the ILO’s conditions of work and equality department.

“We must ensure that we direct this trend so that it supports an inclusive future of work in which the talents and skills of persons with disabilities can contribute to the success of workplaces and societies worldwide,” she said.

Fernando Riano, Director of Institutional Relations and Social Responsibility in ONCE Social Group, said: “In order to leave no one behind, the technological revolution which we are living and which has been accelerated by the pandemic needs to ensure an inclusive design for people with disabilities, so prevent it being a barrier for them.”