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Pandemic, technology unlocks doors for people with disabilities

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ROCKFORD (WREX) — Having a disability can mean having a harder time finding a job, but COVID-19 has somewhat leveled the playing field.

The coronavirus shut down the world, leaving no industry immune to restrictions, while people have been confined to their homes. But in a strange way, it opened new doors.

"Really, working virtually benefits everyone, not just people with disabilities," Ron Jackson explains.

Jackson has spastic cerebral palsy and works as an employment specialist with RAMP, a center for independent living. He says for some people with disabilities, there are barriers to employment, but technology is changing that.

"I think that the pandemic has allowed people with disabilities to show-case that they are able to work, but that they just might have to do it in a different way," Jackson says.

He, as well as RAMP's Executive Director Julie Bosma, believes some employers can be hesitant to hire a person with disabilities, worried they aren't capable of doing the job.

"If they can do something in a different environment, whether that's at home [or] whether it's sitting at Starbucks, wherever it is, then, again, that really opens up the possibilities for them," Bomsa says.

Bosma says online conferencing apps, like Zoom, level the playing field for people with disabilities and give them the ability to work from anywhere.

"Maybe, again, it's taking off their blinders to the fact that it really doesn't matter if you have a disability," Bosma says. "If you're an individual that can get the job done, they can accommodate you to ensure that you can be successful in that position."

The hope is when businesses start to reopen and look for employees, they consider the merits of each person individually and not a person's disability.

Jackson says he's helped several people with disabilities find jobs during the coronavirus pandemic and he hopes more employers are willing to look at the changing landscape as a way to accommodate those who historically have been overlooked.