People with disability in 2035: How major trends will change their everyday life

The world does not stand still and we are sometimes overwhelmed by technological progress. How can this improve the workplace, e.g. for employees with a disability, and what may the future look like, in 2035? A new report by the Swiss-based Gottlieb Duttweiler Institute (GDI) sheds some light on societal, political, technological and economic developments. It shows that these will bring about both new challenges and opportunities for people with disabilities.

Which are the most important trends and developments that will change the everyday life of people with disabilities? First, there GDI report describes the ongoing progress in the medical field and rehabilitation, which leads to a further increasing life expectancy for everyone, including for people with a disability. Second, as a result of a stronger distinction between different forms of disabilities, supported by demographic ageing, we will see changing social images of disability. Third, the dissolution of the traditional family and emergence of novel, diverse family patterns present new questions, e.g. about the rights or duties of patchwork families towards disabled family members. The forth item of the report’s analysis looks at limited public funding and how this may lead to a highly bureaucratised access to health services and medical supplies, including an increased pressure to justify personal needs.

Based on these trends, the authors develop six hypotheses about the future of people with disabilities, which demonstrate how public life and care as well as education and work-life may change over the next 20 years. Four of them are of particular interest for D&I Managers:

  1. Being disabled will become more ‘normal’.

Political, technological, societal and medical trends will contribute to a steady normalisation of disabilities. For example, the UN Disability Rights Convention and special laws passed in many European countries have initiated a paradigm shift from viewing people with disability as needy beings towards understanding them as confident subjects with individual, justiciable rights. Furthermore, the megatrend of individualisation makes it widely accepted to be different. In addition, technological and medical progress will make it a lot easier to compensate for the shortcomings of people with disabilities.

  1. Barriers will disappear.

Barriers for disabled people will mostly disappear in public area, transport, living etc. Workplaces as well can and will be transformed during the next two decades, as it is often possible to make use of public grants or loans and employing people with disabilities is an issue of compliance and has a clear Business Case.

  1. Job markets will become both more solidary and tighter.

We will have to face increasing competitive pressure and a rougher market, which will lead to both a high pressure to perform and the need to make models for work and life more flexible. According to the authors, there will be a polarisation between highly agile, technology-based, globally acting companies on the one hand and SMEs that focus on local added value and solidarity on the other hand. They predict SMEs to more and more adjusting their business models to local and societal needs and see new employment opportunities for people with disabilities in this part of the economy that moves at a different pace.

4. New approaches to Inclusion will reform the educational area.

People with disabilities will work in interdependent worlds of education and work with different degrees of shelter. There will be more flexible and more individualised transitions between school and professional life. In the best scenario, we will have inclusive schools that offer the same opportunities to every student regardless of their origin or handicap. The guiding idea will be to organise inclusion in a customised way, individually defined for each person.

In addition, the report highlights some of the challenges for disabled people in the future: First, the authors detect a need for more public debate about the value of diversity to lay the foundation for a common understanding and solidarity. Furthermore, they argue that a steady exposure to diversity is needed for people to develop empathy and acceptance of difference. For companies, especially for SMEs, the authors see a need for cultural change in order to succeed in a globalised and fast moving world. According to the report, holistic frameworks for responsibility and working-time have to be developed.

The GDI researchers summarise that embracing diversity will enable to discover the unique resources and skills of people with disabilities rather than perceiving mainly their challenges, which are all too often more focused upon.

The report is available for download on this website.