Avoiding Pitfalls When Engaging Candidates With Disabilities 

People with disabilities are the largest minority group in our country, Yet they are also one of the most underemployed. Although 61 million adults in the U.S. have a disability, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities increased from 7.3% to 12.6% in 2020, as compared to a 4.4% to 7.9% jump for those without a disability. 

The most common reasons for this gap include misconceptions regarding the capabilities of individuals with disabilities, as well not knowing how to accommodate for that disability. As a result, employers that are unsure of how to best incorporate individuals with disabilities into the workforce can fall into the trap of not adhering to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

At the very least, such mistakes may cause an employer to inadvertently prevent a person with a disability from applying, but the worst-case scenario is a company being sued for discrimination. 

To avoid pitfalls, employers should prioritize understanding the various forms that disability discrimination can take, move proactively to emphasize inclusion in their hiring practices, and be prepared to accommodate an employee’s disability. 

Employers may inadvertently discriminate against job applicants with disabilities by treating them unfairly due to their condition. An example of this are job listings that use words that risk discouraging candidates with disabilities from applying because they emphasize a physical-activity requirement. 

It’s not necessary to excessively characterize or exaggerate physical demands of a position; simply state the requirements of the position, with the knowledge that someone who applies will clarify how they can meet the requirements with ADA accommodations. 

Additionally, employers can increase the opportunity for diverse hiring opportunities by listing job qualifications using more general, open-ended language, or using proactively inclusive language that makes it clear the employer is accustomed to providing accommodations under ADA.

For example, many job postings list a physical requirement, such as the ability to lift up to 50 pounds, when in reality the job does not require that skill. Also, to make listings more inclusive of those with conditions such as autism or dyslexia, ensuring the qualifications and description are jargon-free will go a long way toward making them inclusive.

Meanwhile, many individuals with disabilities won’t apply for jobs that don’t relay flexibility regarding work-from-home or mention any kind of disability policy in the benefits section. Keeping these elements in mind when crafting job postings will help encourage more inclusivity and diversity of applicants and help employers avoid discrimination in the hiring process.

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Discrimination can also occur during the interview process when interviewers may feel compelled to ask about the nature or severity of an applicant’s disabilities, such as asking about an individual’s limitations in the workplace or whether they are able to accomplish certain responsibilities. Trust that an individual who is applying for the job will assume the responsibility of doing that job and will clarify their need for an accommodation, if needed.  

However, interviewers can ask candidates whether they can complete a certain job function to ascertain their willingness and ability to meet the requirements. Again, count on candidates to do their part to inform about potential accommodation needs.

Speaking of, the ADA requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations, which are defined as assistance or changes to a position or workplace that will enable an employee to do the job. Contrary to what many might assume, accommodations are often very affordable. Most cost less than $500, and sometimes they are free. For instance, remote work is one form of accommodation recently popularized, and it has given many individuals with disabilities the opportunity to work for companies and industries that would otherwise have been inaccessible.

Still, even if remote work is unfeasible, there are many kinds of accommodations that employers can offer to be more inclusive to individuals with disabilities. Examples include:

  • Additional medical leave to give employees time to attend to their health
  • Job restructuring to ensure the employee is able to fulfill job responsibilities
  • Allowing a more flexible work schedule for employees to maintain their routine
  • Making the office wheelchair-friendly with a ramp and/or automatic doors
  • Hiring an interpreter for a hearing-impaired worker or purchasing software to enable a blind employee to perform job duties

Many employers may view ADA compliance as primarily a means to minimize risk. But the reality is that compliance can lead to real benefits for your organization — in that you’ll be able to expand your talent pool and help people do their jobs more effectively. Of course, breaking down the barriers for individuals with disabilities won’t happen overnight. But by taking steps toward more inclusive hiring, employers can help bring us closer to a U.S. workforce where everyone feels welcome.

Diane Winiarski has 30 years of experience in medical management, vocational rehabilitation, and placement services through a variety of roles in managed care, disability, and insurance organizations.

She serves as director of Allsup Employment Services (AES), a national SSA-authorized Employment Network (EN) and oversees AES experts providing specialized help to people with disabilities who are returning to work through the Social Security Administration’s Ticket to Work (TTW) program. Prior to taking the role, she was director of vocational rehabilitation services for AES, whose services include career planning, benefits counseling, ongoing employment support, and employment retention services.

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