Despite many organization's continued efforts to increase diversity, equity and inclusion in recruiting and hiring, persons with disabilities still experience a stark disparity when it comes to securing employment - just 19% of persons with a disability were employed in 2019, compared to 66% of persons without a disability.
This is an injustice for persons with disabilities. It's also a huge missed opportunity for organizations seeking a competitive edge, considering companies that increase representation of persons with disabilities are shown to see benefits like 28% higher revenue, 30% percent higher economic profit margins, and double the net income.
If you're ready to evaluate the way you're screening candidates to gain access to this largely untapped pool of highly qualified candidates, here are three ways you can prepare to interview candidates with a disability:
1. Understand legal protections for persons with disabilities
Title 1 of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination in recruitment and hiring, among other aspects of employment. Understanding how this law affects your interview with a candidate with a disability can help you and the candidate feel more comfortable during the interview process.
For example, this law restricts questions that can be asked about an applicant's disability. According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the only questions an employer can lawfully ask about a disability relate to:
- Any adjustments required to ensure a fair and equitable interview/selection process
- How the person will perform the inherent requirements of a job
- Any adjustments that may be required to complete the inherent requirements of the job
One way to ensure you're conducting the interview and asking questions that won't break this important law is to focus on behavioral interview questions. These questions focus on the core competencies of the position and allow applicants to demonstrate their skills, abilities and performance on the job. It keeps the focus of the conversation on what candidates have done and can do - not what they can't.
[Keep reading: How Remote Work Policies Encourage Diversity]
2. Pay attention to your own unspoken expectations
Different cultures can associate certain behaviors and characteristics with desirable performance during an interview. However, some of these behaviors or characteristics are unnecessary to the job and may negatively impact candidates with disabilities.
For example, in many cultures, making eye contact, giving a firm handshake, and smiling while making conversation are interpreted as positive interview behaviors. However, these behaviors may not be possible for persons with disabilities, whether those disabilities are invisible or visible.
To make sure you're fairly evaluating a candidate with a disability - or to allow for the possibility that you may not always know a candidate has a disability, it's important to internally acknowledge your unspoken expectations and set them aside to focus on the specific needs of the position they are seeking to fill.
3. Adapt the interview workflow to be more inclusive
Depending on the disability being experienced by the candidate, there's a lot an interviewer can do to make the process more comfortable and inclusive. And as it turns out, a lot of these practices - clear communication, transparency, information - make the process more comfortable and inclusive for all candidates, not just those with disabilities.
Consider how you can accommodate the different needs of persons with disabilities during your interviews:
Candidates with hearing disabilities
- If multiple people are conducting the interview, take turns speaking and avoid interrupting other speakers.
- Consider handing out a printed sheet with the names, titles and departments of the people participating in the interview before the interview begins.
- Face the deaf or hard of hearing person directly, on the same level, and in good light whenever possible. Position yourself so that the light is shining on the speaker's face, not in the eyes of the listener.
- Speak clearly, slowly, distinctly, but naturally, without shouting or exaggerating mouth movements. Shouting distorts the sound of speech and may make speech reading more difficult.
- Say the person's name before beginning a conversation. This gives the listener a chance to focus attention and reduces the chance of missing words at the beginning of the conversation.
- Avoid talking too rapidly. Slow down a little, pause between sentences or phrases, and wait to make sure you have been understood before going on.
- Look directly at the candidate when speaking to them: lip reading is a critical communication tool for many people with hearing disabilities. If they cannot read your lips, you limit their ability to communicate effectively. Similarly, try not to cover your mouth or turn away when speaking.
- Most deaf and hard of hearing people have greater difficulty understanding speech when there is background noise. Try to minimize extraneous noise when talking.
- Whenever possible, provide pertinent information in writing, such as directions, schedules, work assignments, etc.
Candidates with vision disabilities
- Clearly identify and name all of the parties who will be participating in the interview
- Give the candidate a description of the room, including where they are to sit
- During the initial greeting, ask them if you may shake their hand
- Since the candidate is unable to read body language, let them know when you need to move locations or end the conversation
- If the candidate has a guide dog or other service animal, do not talk to or pet the animal
Candidates with a speech-related disabilities
- Do not pretend to understand if you are having difficulty, and ask for clarification if and when necessary
- Speak with a normal tone of voice
- Be patient and wait for the candidate's entire response - do not attempt to complete the person's thoughts for them
Candidates with a physical disabilities
- Ensure the interview location is accessible, keeping in mind any potential obstacles such as stairs, curbs, or steep hills
- A wheelchair is part of the candidate's personal space, so take care to treat it as such and refrain from touching it without permission
- Be aware that some wheelchair users may prefer to transfer themselves out of their wheelchairs for the duration of the interview, such as into an office chair
- Make sure persons using canes or crutches are able to keep them within easy reach
Candidates with neurodiversity
- Candidates with neurodiversity might not follow social norms or react to social prompts as expected - unless the position requires complex social interaction, avoid letting small social missteps impact your decision making
- Neurodiverse candidates may take longer to consider how to answer questions, so be patient before jumping in to clarify or prompt
[Keep reading: How to Accommodate Deaf and Hard of Hearing Employees]
Don't overlook qualified candidates by inadvertently making the interview process more difficult for persons with disabilities. Use these tips to make sure you're giving all candidates the most inclusive, focused and successful possible interview experience.
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