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Disability & hiring –– are you wasting talent?

Disability & hiring –– are you wasting talent?

If you are disabled in America, much of the corporate world can be closed off to you. Why? Because our hiring processes knowingly, or unknowingly, exclude those less physically able — so, how can we turn the tide?

Hidden hiring biases: is disability one of yours?

Diversity and inclusion has reached the global main-stage in recent years. 

US workers walked out in their thousands for ‘Strike for Black Lives’ back in July. The Pride message was heard loud and clear in 2020, despite the lack of in-person parties and parades. And the gender pay gap shows signs of narrowing — albeit very, very slowly indeed.

But amidst the pivotal conversations on race, gender, and LGBTQ+, the rights and experiences of disabled people have been somewhat overlooked. Biases around able-bodied, and less able-bodied, workers endure. And in workplaces across the world, the representation of disabled employees is simply way too low.

Disability in the US workforce (or the lack thereof)

Disabled Americans are far more likely to be unemployed than their non-disabled peers.

For disabled workers who do find employment, the experience is hardly inclusive. Wages tend to be lower than average for disabled people who are in employment. And their work roles and stations keep them segregated from wider teams — positioning them alongside other people with disabilities and away from promotion opportunities. 

That’s why it’s hardly surprising that many disabled Americans are forced to seek financial help from family or government assistance. They end up dependent on others and stuck in a lower socio-economic level, without the means to progress.

Is the organization’s view of disabled workers to blame?

Not only is the treatment of disabled US workers ethically and legally dubious, it also adds to the stigma surrounding people with disabilities. 

When disabled workers are segregated in teams or denied job opportunities, we perpetuate the false idea that these individuals are incapable of being valuable members of the workforce. This is an idea that we all need to work hard to dismantle.

Why? Because it creates a conceptual trap around people with disabilities. It keeps them in the cycle of unemployment or low-income work, isolation from wider society, and restricted access to opportunities for growth.

So, how do you know if you have an unconscious bias towards people with disabilities? And how does this affect your recruitment process?

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How accommodating is your workplace and hiring process to people with disabilities?

Many workplaces simply haven’t done enough when it comes to the very basics of accessibility for employees with disabilities. 

Does your place of work have step-free access to allow differently-abled people to simply enter the building? And are there desks wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs? And of course, not all disabilities are visible — can those hard-of-sight or hard-of-hearing get what they need, without fear of ridicule or unwanted exposure?

Providing for disabled workers in modern recruitment

The digital age requires open digital access for all abilities. And the entire recruitment process needs to be reviewed, for potential candidates to make it through to the interview stage. 

hiring disability - professional man in the office with a coffee, he is sat in a wheelchair

Even if the physical and digital barriers to entry are removed, there’s still one more that many of us need to work on: our inherent prejudices.

Online job posts need to be accessible to those who struggle reading on screen. Whether that’s with text-to-speech options, or the appropriate HTML code used in websites to allow reading software to function.

Even if the physical and digital barriers to entry are removed, there’s still one more that many of us need to work on: our inherent prejudices.

Visibility challenges bias

Without even being aware of it, many of us hold unconscious ideas about differently-abled people, which are only reinforced by our own able-bodied experience. 

The fact remains that mobility, sight, or hearing simply aren’t requirements for basic competency in a vast number of job roles. A lawyer doesn’t need 20/20 vision to function at the highest level. A project manager doesn’t need two fully-functioning legs to be successful. But in reality, those that don’t have those abilities risk being discounted altogether.

In the UK, disabled people have to apply for 60% more jobs before they find work. Since these people can arguably meet the requirements of the job spec, there must be something in our interview processes that’s blocking them out…

4 ways to make your hiring process inclusive of people with disabilities

1. Rewrite your job ads with accessibility in mind

Is it necessary for applicants to have a driving license if there’s no driving involved? No. 

Challenge the content of your job specs and clear out any hangovers from years of no-one reconsidering their value. Plus, be sure to state clearly that you welcome applications from all sections of the community. Highlight your equal opportunities policy and ways that you are revolutionising
disability inclusion to reassure people that this is something your company values.

And challenge the format of your job adverts, too. If you post on an online job board with no text-to-speech function, how will those with vision impairments be able to apply?

2. Make the interview process as fair as possible

Stay focused on the core competencies of the role — that’s the best way to keep the recruitment process fair. But it’s also easier said than done.

Be conscious of any assumptions you might have made about a person’s ability to excel in a position. These won’t be based on any facts, especially since you don’t yet know anything about the person in front of you.

Make sure interview questions are relevant to the performance of the role, and not about a person’s physical ability. Especially as the law in many countries says you can’t ask people about their health before making them an offer.

Also, if there’s a test or assessment involved, be sure to give candidates forewarning, and offer different formats for people to choose from.

It is your duty to make any reasonable adjustments that come up –– no ‘ifs’ or ‘buts’.

3. Partner with diversity experts or organizations

Remember, you don’t have to go it alone. There are plenty of dedicated inclusive recruitment tools and resources to lean on. Encourage business leaders to wear their inclusivity as a badge of honor, introducing them to communities such as the Valuable 500 is a great place to start.

‘Diversity: we’ve got this nailed, right? Wait a minute… Didn’t we just forget 1.3 billion disabled people?’

Advocacy groups and community-led organizations can keep your initiatives on track, as they can help bridge the gap between diverse groups and your recruitment process. Plus, tools like Headstart can strip out the bias completely from the selection process, by only showing candidates that are a good fit for the role, regardless of any other personal or physical attributes.

4. Make accessibility a priority

So now your recruitment process is inclusive, but can candidates easily access the building once they arrive for an interview? It’s a simple consideration, but one that often goes overlooked. 

Remember to physically confirm that:

  • Doorways and corridors are wide enough for wheelchairs
  • There are ramps at entry and exit points
  • Your restrooms are accessible
  • Workstations can be configured for easy access
  • You provide accessible operating buttons and/or Braille in lifts

Digital accessibility and assistive technology are also key, like:

  • Color-coded keyboards
  • Speech recognition and sign language apps
  • Refreshable Braille displays

If you can guarantee the above, you’re doing better than many other businesses. Though, to be a true pioneer be sure to seek advice from accessibility experts.

Actively hiring people with disabilities should be on your agenda

And if you need any further motivation, hiring people with disabilities carries commercial benefits, too. 

Companies who incorporated candidates with disabilities saw 28% higher revenue and double their net income. Plus, Workplace Initiative found that companies like these experienced lower turnover, lower recruiting costs, and increased productivity to boot. 

Now’s the time to make a change, and broaden the recruitment search to include people of all abilities.

Will your organization help lead the way?

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