For many job-seekers with disabilities, the proliferation of online applications is a major leap forward. Job-seekers with vision, mental health, and mobility issues frequently find remote job-searching more comfortable and accessible than pounding the pavement. There’s also the added bonus of not needing to disclose disability immediately, increasing the chances of a selection process uninhibited by an employer’s perception of disability.
All is not well in the hiring world, however. Perplexed employers proclaim themselves to be disability-friendly on their applications, but still find that relatively few candidates with disabilities apply. Meanwhile, everything from the application, to the interview, to the pre-employment testing can quietly exclude qualified candidates. Since we know that people with disabilities comprise a mostly-untapped pool of worthy candidates, we’d like to present a few solutions that are simple to implement and easy to maintain. The Alberta Human Rights Commission specifies that employers have a duty to accommodate short of undue hardship, but we’d prefer to draw your attention to the thousands of clients who have walked through our doors—clients who are ready, willing, and able to work. If employers want to make the most informed hiring choices possible, we recommend considering the basic principles of inclusive hiring, which benefit employers as often as job-seekers.
The Application: Keep it Simple (and Accessible)
Job applications can seem straightforward and simple, especially to those designing them, but three out of five job-seekers claim to feel confused by a typical application, whether because the instructions are unclear or because the forms are excessively long.
The first and best design principle of job applications is to keep them as simple as possible. Any nonessential procedures should be reserved for a later point in the screening process, to reduce applicant fatigue and frustration. Don’t hide important information in the middle of long paragraphs, or interrupt the process with tangents about your company philosophy. Present the form in a concise manner that ensures candidates understand what is being asked of them, and label all required fields for clarity.
Next, consider specific accessibility requirements. Is the third-party application platform you’re using accessible for low-vision users? Is it compatible with screen readers? Can those using dictation software access the input fields? Is keyboard navigation always available for those who can’t use a mouse? If you don’t know the answers to these questions, and you don’t have an accessibility consultant on hand, have people with disabilities test it for you, or contact the platform’s staff to learn about their accessibility measures.
If you are hosting the job posting on your own website or social media accounts, ask yourself the same questions about compatibility and accessibility. There are many resources online devoted to designing accessible websites. An ounce of prevention is always preferable to a pound of cure.
Finally, assess the content in your application. Are the images and screenshots described? Do videos have transcripts or captioning for D/deaf candidates? In short, can anyone with basic computer skills understand and apply for your job posting?
Tip: if you’re concerned that any part of your application may exclude a qualified candidate, provide an alternate application method—perhaps an email address—so that anyone who cannot use the default application has another way of sending you their information. Make sure your Human Resources department is aware of this alternative, lest staff discourage an applicant from reaching out.
The Interview: Accommodate, and Focus on Ability
Employers should assume that not every interviewee will disclose the presence of a disability beforehand, and take a proactive approach to interview preparation.
First things first: consider your interview venue. Is it physically accessible? If so, it’s helpful to notify all candidates in the interview invitation. Have a backup location in mind in case the original space presents impassable barriers. You want your candidates focusing on their interview preparation, not on whether they’ll be able to enter the building. The interview invitation is also a perfect time to mention that you are happy to accommodate access requests. Some interviewees may feel emboldened to disclose at this point, which will make the process smoother for everyone.
Next, prepare your staff to plan inclusive interviews. Ensure that all paperwork and handouts are available in alternate formats for visually impaired interviewees, and know that they may require assistance with signing hard copies (we recommend investing in a handy signature guide, which is also useful for anyone with unsteady hands). Honour specific requests as best you can, and ask clarifying questions.
During the interview itself, resist the urge to interrogate the interviewee about the exact nature of their disability, and keep the interview squarely on topic. Never ask questions like “Are you capable of the basic duties of this job?” Assume that if a candidate has taken the trouble to apply and attend an interview, chances are they are able to accomplish the necessary duties. Instead, ask about workarounds and methods: “I see you have some video editing experience. What types of software do you use? Are there any accommodations we can make for you?”
Don’t worry if you’re nervous or unsure. It’s likely the interviewee expects this, and will be glad to answer pertinent questions about how they will approach the job.
Tip: Broaden your candidate pool by considering alternatives to the traditional interview for applicants with high anxiety, autism, and other conditions that make the typical interview setting excessively difficult. Work trials and skills tests are excellent ways to assess a candidate’s suitability, depending on the job duties.
Pre-Employment Testing: Make it Relevant and Inclusive
Pre-employment testing can let candidates with weaker interview skills shine more brightly, but it can also exclude people who would excel in the job but struggle with the limitations of pre-employment tests. Since testing varies widely from employer to employer, we’ll provide a few general guidelines. For more in-depth insight, we suggest an accessibility audit.
The most vital tenet of inclusive pre-employment testing is that it remains relevant. Assessing a candidate’s soft skills is important, but some tests are gratuitously complicated. Trim the fat when designing testing, so that no unnecessary hurdles remain. Is that colour-matching personality test essential, especially if it shuts out visually impaired candidates? Does your testing interface depend on inaccessible software? Is extra time allocated to candidates who may work more slowly in exam-like situations but who would be perfectly efficient in your day-to-day environment? No matter what you’re testing for, you’ll want the process to reflect the actual job as closely as possible. Do not assume that being unable to complete pre-employment testing in its default form is a sign of incompetence; you’ll risk dismissing people who would otherwise be valuable assets.
Tip: Collaborate with candidates to work around testing issues. A more flexible test is not necessarily a less rigorous one.
Beyond the specifics, inclusive hiring is all about facilitating equal access. An inclusive screening process is not an easy, simplistic, or ineffective one. It is more flexible, less convoluted, and more inviting. Committing actively and continuously to inclusive hiring processes sends a positive message to employees, customers, and fellow employers, and that can only be a positive thing for your business.
Ultimately, implementing inclusive hiring contributes to a more diverse and talented workforce. Hiring inclusively is not just the right thing to do–it’s the sensible thing to do.
Dogs have been providing humans with companionship and comfort for centuries, but they have also begun to fill specific, diverse roles related to neurological and physical disabilities. There are about a hundred service dogs in Alberta alone, so it’s possible that you’ll encounter one of them in your workplace. Whether this makes you joyful or nervous, it’s important to educate yourself on the different types of service dogs, and proper etiquette when interacting with a service dog team.
Types of Service Dogs
You may picture a guide dog when you think of service animals, but the range of disabilities dogs can assist with has expanded dramatically in recent years, as has the variety of breeds that can be trained. You’re as likely to see a poodle as a retriever, and the list of suitable breeds continues to grow. In 2017, you’ll meet service dogs that are trained to do any number of tasks, from easing anxiety, to alerting handlers of seizures, to detecting changes in blood sugar for those with diabetes. Here is just a small sample of the jobs service dogs can perform:
- Hearing dogs can alert deaf and hard of hearing handlers of important sounds such as doorbells and fire alarms.
- Mobility assistance dogs are taught to retrieve dropped objects, brace handlers who may have balance difficulties, and even pull wheelchairs up ramps.
- Diabetic alert dogs are able to sense changes in blood sugar levels far sooner than their handlers, allowing them to address the situation before it becomes dangerous.
- Seizure alert dogs are sensitive to oncoming seizures, and can help their handlers find a safe place and fetch medication.
- Psychiatric service dogs work with handlers who live with conditions such as PTSD, anxiety, and depression. They provide a general sense of safety, but are also trained to perform specific tasks like redirecting obsessive, harmful habits, or warning the handler when they begin to dissociate.
- Allergy detection dogs will be on guard for allergens that may harm their handlers.
The first thing to remember is that, while accommodating a service dog team may seem a little scary at first, it’s a relatively easy and rewarding process. In Canada, employers are legally obligated to allow service dogs to accompany their handlers just about everywhere, so education and preparation are essential.
When you meet a service dog team, always address the handler directly. Never approach the dog or acknowledge it without first acknowledging the handler. In fact, it’s generally unacceptable to touch, speak to, or feed the dog lest you distract it from its important work. The best course of action is to ignore the dog completely, as difficult as that may seem. If it helps, consider the dog an assistance device so that you’re less tempted to interact with it while it’s on duty. (Yes, a sleeping dog is still a working dog.)
Avoid making assumptions. If the handler’s disability is not visible, or the dog is not wearing a recognizable indicator such as a harness or vest, refrain from questioning it. Trust that your employer has done their due diligence in ensuring the service dog team is within its rights to be there. Not everyone is receptive to discussing or even disclosing their disabilities, so keep courtesy and respect in mind, always.
Finally, be proactive about disclosing any allergies or phobias you may experience. Dog handlers and employers can address environmental issues, but only if you inform them. Service animals tend to be easy to accommodate. They are highly-trained and well-mannered—so much so that you may even forget they’re there at all. Still, their presence can cause workplace issues, which must be solved as quickly as possible.
Employers must honour Albertan law and allow service dogs into their workplaces, provided they were trained at an accredited school and the employee has a bona fide disability. There are various strategies for educating other employees and dealing with potential problems, so research and consultation with the handler are vital for a smooth, successful transition.
While service dogs can usually be relied upon to behave themselves, handlers are ultimately and solely responsible for their conduct and should be expected to respond readily to behavioural issues as soon as they arise. Employers must balance the needs of their other employees with the rights afforded to all service dog teams. There may be some bumpy spots in the road, but once properly settled, a service dog can be a beneficial addition to any workplace.
Earlier this year, I found a story about a home improvement retailer who hired a service dog user with a brain injury. This is terrific! This is corporate responsibility. This is true representation of the broader community which this retailer serves. This is hiring people with unique skills and talents to fill a role that a company sees as valuable. I took to Facebook and thanked whoever hired this man for giving him a position that he clearly desired, wishing more hiring managers and companies did the same.
I’m on the job hunt, too, and it got me to thinking. Did this company hire this man – will a company hire me? – only because it is the law to do so? Will they do so because it is the socially conscious “in thing” to do so? Or will they hire people with disabilities because they realize that we’re a huge untapped market for them? Disability not only touches those living with blindness, who are deaf, who use wheelchairs, and/or who have brain injuries (sometimes in combination), but those with invisible disabilities as well. This doesn’t even address our friends, families, and others who care about us. A Canadian organization recently launched the We Belong App. The app allows consumers to search by location for companies and organizations that hire inclusively (primarily people with developmental disabilities), giving them the opportunity to show financially that it pays to do so.
Meaningful employment is something that’s very important to me. I want to be hired at a position with a company that views me as an asset, not a liability. Unfortunately, the latter appears to be the prevailing thinking among people who’ve met me for interviews. I don’t make constant eye contact, I imply that it’s important to use words to communicate… and yet I have years of experience behind me, so that should count for something. Do I want a job? You bet your last dollar. But I want a job with a company or organization that views me as the asset that I am, with unique insights, skills, and talents to bring to the table. Things may have to be done differently, but change is a part of life; many accommodations for people with disabilities end up benefiting entire workplaces, and it’s not often realized until after the disabled employee moves on to other opportunities (personal or professional).
For those who don’t hire us because of your preconceived notions of our capabilities – not because you truly had more qualified applicants – please know that you’ve broken human rights legislation. The law is only one piece in a mosaic that fits together to include people with disabilities in society, in the classroom, in the workplace. It takes inclusive thinkers – who are unfortunately not frequently in HR – to understand that we’re more than the eyes or ears or hands or legs or brain that doesn’t work as expected. If you want to be progressive, inclusive, and innovative, hire people with unique skills, talents and insights who just happen to be disabled. Your business will benefit as much if not more than the employee you hire, because we do have friends and families and others who care about us… and they reward truly inclusive and empowering workplaces with their positive words to their friends and families and coworkers… and their consumer dollars. The bottom dollar is a motivator for many; I’d like to use some of mine to support employers who don’t discriminate. but that can only happen once pretty words on a page start becoming action, once HR managers, CEOs, and office managers view people with disabilities as unique resources and assets to business and commerce.
Oh, and if you are one of those progressive, inclusive, innovative HR managers, CEOs, or office managers, drop me a line; I’d be happy to meet you.
Here at DECSA, we recently came upon a great resource from the City of Edmonton – a chart detailing steps one can take when faced with housing problems. The chart includes information on seniors fleeing abuse, women fleeing abuse, addictions recovery, and more. The chart can be viewed below (click on it to enlarge), and click here to download the chart.