A funny thing happened on the way to avoiding Covid: More and more people started working from home. For many disabled folks, the only question was, what took you so long?
Working from home may not be easy for people who are used to being out and about. But a lot of disabled people find it much easier, if not essential. It not only means you don’t have to commute to an office or deal with sometimes-punishing weather; it also means you’re close to your necessary equipment and other aids that enable you to function well.
So, for National Disability Employment Awareness Month, here are 10 tips for working from home. These are admittedly highly subjective. I’ve been working from home as a freelance writer for more than 30 years—as long as I’ve been working. It wasn’t my first choice. After college, I tried and failed to find regular work. To say I wasn’t discriminated against because of my disability would be naïve. Fortunately, I was asked to submit articles as a freelancer, and my roster of clients grew from there.
- Try to stick to a schedule, even if you don’t have to. You can always cheat a little, as long as no one knows the difference. I try to be at my computer from 9 AM to 5 PM Monday through Friday, with breaks for lunch and snacks, etc. Some days I start earlier; other days I work later. And yes, there are days when I don’t honestly work all eight hours. But I generally try to adhere to this self-discipline.
- Learn to screen out distractions, if possible. Some people’s disabilities make that impossible, and everyone finds it hard not to respond to pets (or children). I put on earphones that block out or at least muffle outside noises (I don’t have an office door I can close), and I’m not above the occasional polite “Shush.” Your family will understand.
- Learn your technology. You can’t work from home if you don’t know how to use your computer or phone or whatever equipment the job requires. You need to know how to communicate by text and/or email. You need a way to manage voicemail, so people can get hold of you. You need to know your way around Zoom, too, which includes thinking a little about your lighting and background. Keep your tech up-to-date.
- Keep records. You’re essentially running your own business, so save relevant emails and texts. Keep track of assignments, due dates, and billing. Mark down what you spend for work, when you get paid, and what the payment is for. This will not only make your life easier at tax time but help you know who still owes you money. Various apps can help, though I prefer my own organizational system.
- Get comfortable with tax forms. If you work remotely for one employer who does tax withholding, that’s great. But if you have multiple employers/clients, you’re an independent contractor and you’ll have to fill out a W-9 for each one. Moreover, if your taxes aren’t withheld, it’s a good idea to pay estimated taxes every quarter. If you don’t, next April your tax bill may be enormous.
- Hustle, hustle, hustle. Remember, you’re not just doing the job—you might have to continually seek out new business. Frankly, this is the part of freelancing I hate the most—having to market myself and send out queries, just like a beginner. I still cold call or email editors and say, “How can I be helpful to you?” It helps to pitch a few ideas and generally suggest ways to be of service.
- Don’t be embarrassed about working from home. Don’t try to pretend you’re somewhere else or someone else. These days especially, there is no shame in remote employment.
- Don’t forget your mental health. As important as it is to maintain a disciplined work schedule, it’s also important to allow for downtime. That can be surprisingly hard when you work from home. After all, you’re already home! I try to designate different areas of my small apartment for different activities or times of day; one space is for relaxing and another for working. I never have lunch at my desk. Then again, my work computer is also useful for fun. Fun keeps you sane and enables you to come back to your work refreshed.
- Stop comparing. Do the best you can, and don’t worry about what other people your age or in your profession are doing. You can learn from them, of course. I’m a big believer in sharing advice and leads, also known as networking. But just try to be the best version of yourself. That’s the only way to become an expert in your chosen area.
- Finally, be patient. It can take a long time to get home-based employment rolling. If you keep at it, though, you may find yourself busier than you thought possible.
Ben Mattlin is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer, author and frequent blogger for FacingDisability.com. He was born with spinal muscular atrophy, a congenital muscle weakness that causes paralysis and related health issues.
Ben is the author of MIRACLE BOY GROWS UP: How the Disability Rights Revolution Saved My Sanity, and IN SICKNESS AND IN HEALTH: Love, Disability, and a Quest to Understand the Perils and Pleasures of Interabled Romance . He is a frequent contributor to the Washington Post, New York Times and Financial Advisor magazine. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and USA Today, and has been broadcast on NPR’s Morning Edition.