Employees with disabilities represent a largely untapped resource for diversity hiring. Indeed, their representation is actually declining. In the U.S., employment of individuals with disabilities dropped from 19.3% in 2019 to 17.9% in 2020. Why? A lack of inclusive hiring practices is likely a major culprit: If candidates with disabilities encounter difficulties accessing applications or accommodations, they may self-select out of the talent pool.
This is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, the ideal time to take steps to become more welcoming and accessible for individuals with disabilities. Improving accessibility and the candidate experience for candidates with disabilities will help you tap into a broader, more diverse recruitment pool.
Here are three disability-inclusive hiring practices you can adopt to improve accessibility at your company.
Use Inclusive Language and Technology
An important starting point for inclusive hiring practices is showcasing a work environment where candidates with disabilities feel comfortable and welcome. Update your career site and applications to use inclusive language. Audit your site for compliance with web content accessibility guidelines (WCAG).
Make sure that your career site and applications include a statement of accessibility. “It’s really important to put an accessibility statement on there to let people know that they can reach out for accommodation requests,” says Jonathan Avila, chief accessibility officer at Level Access.
Unfortunately, some of this may be beyond your control. Often hiring programs and software come from third-party vendors, which can pose a challenge to accessibility. “An organization will need to have a contractual agreement with these vendors to enforce that they are accessible,” Avila says. “It’s difficult, without contractual language around accessibility, to force a vendor to make changes.”
If the products you use aren’t fully accessible, you’ll have to provide candidates with accommodations to ensure a fair and equal opportunity. “Arrangements may be needed for a person to feel comfortable before, during and after the interview,” says Jim Sullivan, founder, CEO and president at JCSI. “If someone does disclose their disability and their need for outside resources, the hiring manager should provide the candidate with what they need.”
Give Candidates Options
Since the pandemic, the possibilities for virtual hiring processes have improved significantly. That presents both new challenges and new opportunities for driving disability-inclusive hiring practices at your company.
Online applications aren’t immune to accessibility issues, especially if you use third-party software. Filling out applications, uploading resumes and finding job posts can be challenging, particularly if your web pages aren’t optimized for screen readers. It’s also easy to program our unconscious biases into AI tools, which creates a risk of screening out candidates with disabilities.
There are distinct advantages to virtual hiring processes, too. “It does allow for some anonymity of disability,” Avila says. Video interviews are more accessible than in-person interviews that require travel. Even still, they can be more likely to give away an outwardly visible disability than a simple phone screen. Give candidates several options, including a phone screen, especially in the early stages of the hiring process. Whenever possible in the hiring process, you should provide choices to avoid forcing candidates to disclose disabilities.
Virtual interviews also eliminate the need to travel. In-person interviews can present an unnecessary barrier to candidates with disabilities, particularly as remote work becomes more and more common.
Be certain that accommodation requests are both easy to access and to fulfill. “Make sure that if someone does have an accommodation request, that you can implement that correctly,” Avila says. Audit the request process to make sure it goes to the right person who can understand the candidate’s needs, schedule the accommodation, and share the details with the candidate ahead of time.
Communicate Resources to Hiring Managers
You can’t truly foster inclusive hiring practices without an adequate budget. It’s up to human resources to provide funding and education for accommodating candidates with disabilities. These resources must be communicated to recruiters and hiring managers. Hiring managers need to know where to go if they require support.
If hiring managers don’t know that there’s financial support (or if there simply isn’t any), it can impact their decisions in a way that damages diversity. “If the person making the hiring decision doesn't have a budget for accessibility and there isn't a central budget for it, they may be reluctant to hire a person who may need assistive technology,” Avila says. They might decide to bypass candidates with disabilities because they don’t know how to support them. This impedes diversity and puts you at risk for discrimination claims.
Educational resources are essential, too. Hiring managers should share information with candidates on how to spotlight an interpreter or add captions on a video interview, for example. Of course, before they can support candidates throughout the hiring process, hiring managers may need to be trained in these matters themselves. Which is another strong argument for diversifying your workplace: The best way to learn how to work with a variety of people is having the opportunity to do so.