People with disabilities are the largest and fastest-growing minority in the world, representing approximately 20% of the U.S. population. A significant number of these individuals are attending and graduating from college, while many others possess unique skills as a result of their disability. Companies that have successfully integrated these individuals into their workplaces have reported to experience such benefits as reduced turnover and increased productivity, just to name a few. So why, while companies face a war on talent, are they reticent about hiring individuals with disabilities? Most likely fear; fear of “doing it wrong,” of not knowing what they can and can’t ask on any interview, of someone making an inappropriate comment or not knowing how to handle an unusual accommodation request. Sometimes it is as simple as not knowing how and where to source these candidates.
Successfully sourcing, recruiting, and hiring individuals with disabilities really boils down to organizational readiness. Although not every component of organizational readiness must be perfect before launching a talent acquisition strategy of this nature, it is critical that an organization assesses their readiness and begin to make changes where needed. Areas of readiness to consider are as follows:
Engagement – disability etiquette and awareness
No one ever means to do or say the wrong thing. It most often occurs as a result of inexperience or a general lack of comfort and confidence in knowing the “right thing” to do or say. Companies must ensure that their employees are guided on the practical dos-and-don’ts of actions, language, etc. to ensure confidence in speaking, working, and socializing with individuals who have disabilities.
Careers portal – accessibility and usability
Since the first engagement with most applicants is via a careers portal, the company must ensure the site is accessible to applicants who are blind, have a visual impairment, or have the inability to use a mouse and keyboard. Even if an applicant has their own accessibility software, if not coded properly, the site can block their ability to utilize a program such as Jaws. Starting with a simple Usability Assessment of the site will go a long way in informing you about just how accessible, and usable the site is and what may need to be done to mitigate any identified issues.
Physical barriers – accessibility and universal design
First and foremost, companies need to ensure their buildings and other facilities meet country-specific minimum standards for physical access. In the U.S., this would mean following the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Having said that, companies should consider going beyond the minimum in order to maximize environmental access for individuals with disabilities of all types (visible and invisible). This means following the seven principles of Universal Design, which is the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design. The principles include: Equitable Use, Flexibility in Use, Simple and Intuitive Use, Perceptible Information, Tolerance for Error, Low Physical Effort and Size and Space for Approach and Use.
Reasonable accommodations process – fair, consistent, equitable
Ensuring that a company’s Reasonable Accommodations/Adjustments Process is Fair, Consistent, and Equitable across the footprint of the enterprise is critical. What this means is that when, where, and how an employee makes the request should utilize the same confidential process no matter their geography, level within the organization, tenure, department, specific function, or disability type. In part, this means that the company must also address its’ process for Disability Disclosure and Self-Identification, the latter for company’s that are U.S. Federal Contractors.
Essential job functions – beyond job descriptions
When interviewing a candidate in the U.S., the individual is supposed to be asked if they can perform the essential function of the job with or without an accommodation. This is only possible if the company has actually delineated their Essential Job Functions (EJF’s). EJF’s are the fundamental duties of a position: the things a person holding the job absolutely must be able to do. Essential job functions are used to determine the rights of an employee with a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). EJF’s are different than job descriptions, which focus more on preferred skills, education, etc.
Immersion – what’s allowed and what’s not
Whether a company is a U.S. Federal Contractor or not, it is required to comply with a variety of Disability-related regulations and guidance. As a U.S. Federal Contractor, a company must specifically comply with the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) and more specifically with the regulations implementing Section 503 which prohibits federal contractors and subcontractors from discriminating in employment against individuals with disabilities and requires these employers to take affirmative action to recruit, hire, promote, and retain these individuals. Immersion training is for individuals working in Talent Acquisition and Human Resources. This type of training focuses on the significant impact on the day to day jobs of those in HR, TA, and even hiring managers. Issues related to such topics as outreach, recruitment, employment, engagement, and retention of candidates/employees with disabilities should all be addressed.
Sourcing – where and how
Because the majority of global companies regularly look to recruit recent university graduates, recruiting university students with disabilities can be a natural progression in a company’s interest to hire this diverse segment of the population.
Did you know over 11% of college students have a disability, and actually, that number is probably underestimated as it comes from students self-reporting having a disability? With those numbers in mind, holding Disability Mentor Days is a great way to promote career development and opportunities for people with disabilities through hands-on career exploration, job shadowing, and more. It is an initiative to connect with an untapped pool of potential future interns and further down the road, employees, in a meaningful way by providing managers with firsthand experience working with someone with a disability, dispelling many typical fears or concerns.
While these Mentor Day programs are good, they’re only a small step and typically the first step in this talent acquisition process. What companies really need to understand is the campus DSO, Disability Student Services Offices, how they work, who to reach out to, etc. DSO Liaison programs are extremely effective when embarking on a comprehensive disability hiring strategy.