Over the last few months, there has been a lot of talk about diversity and inclusion, especially in the world of work. With much of the focus on race and gender issues, the personal, professional, and economic situations of people living with disabilities are sometimes overlooked.
In 2017, one in five Canadians 15 years or older had one or more disabilities. Among those aged 25 to 64, people with disabilities were less likely to be employed (59%) than those without disabilities (80%). Altogether, over 6 million Canadians live with at least one disability - whether it’s physical, sensory, cognitive, or mental health-related - that makes access to meaningful work a serious challenge.
Disability Employment Awareness Month aims to promote employment inclusion for people who experience disabilities and celebrate their extensive contributions to society. As an employer, you play an important part in this. Yes, you have a responsibility to support disabled employees within your organization. But you can’t stop there. You can also contribute to creating more balanced workplaces by making your hiring processes more equitable. Here are inclusive hiring practices you can implement that make work more accessible to Canadians with disabilities.
have an accessible career site
For most future employees, your career site is a point of entry into your organization. But for many people with disabilities, it may feel like an insurmountable obstacle. When building your website and career pages, consider how job-seekers who are visually impared will experience the content. By paying special attention to things like colour contrast, font size, and character spacing, you can ensure that your content is readable for all users. Avoid quirky or unusual fonts. They may seem fun, but they can be a challenge for visually impaired readers. Font sizes 9pt to 12pt is suggested for partially-sighted users, but 16pt is a safer bet as it can also be read by those with more severe visual impairments.
Site design can also impact job-seekers with learning disabilities like dyslexia. Experts agree that sans-serif fonts like Arial, Verdana, Century Gothic, or alternatives to these are the most legible for dyslexic readers. Italics can be particularly challenging, so use them sparingly. Opt for bold font-type to add emphasis instead. Consider products like Google Accessibility, which allows you to implement screen-readers, text magnifiers, and tools to gauge the accessibility of your content. By creating a positive and inclusive first contact experience, you are more likely to connect with talent with disabilities.
rethink your hiring requirements
For most jobs, experience is crucial. However, experience can look different for people with disabilities. Consider expanding what your organization understands as being valuable. Instead of looking for must-haves on a resume, interview in a way that emphasizes abilities, achievements, and individual qualities. Look for soft skills and growth potential. For example, someone who is hearing impared or non-verbal may not have traditional customer service experience on their resume, but they may have a blog where they demonstrate written communication skills. Acquiring on the job experience can often be a struggle for people with disabilities, so changing what qualifies as experience can go a long way in connecting with talented candidates with unconventional experiences.
eliminate personality and IQ tests
Organizations often rely on talent assessment tools like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator or cognitive aptitude tests to determine if potential employees are a good fit for the team. However, these tests can inherently weed out talent with cognitive and social disabilities. Neurodivergent workers often feel compelled to manipulate their responses for fear that they won’t get hired otherwise. This can cause future challenges between the employer and employee. Instead of asking job-seekers to go through standardized processes, provide them with opportunities to demonstrate their skills and abilities. For example, neurodiverse employees are often skilled in pattern recognition, with strong attention to detail and a direct communication style. Consider ways in which they can highlight these skills in the interview process.
offer phone and video interview options
While in-person interviews can facilitate human connections, they’re not always an attainable option for job seekers with physical disabilities. Especially for jobs requiring multiple interviews, try conducting the first few steps by phone or video if possible. This is also an accessible option for people on the autism spectrum, who may feel uncomfortable with in-person interactions with new people. Virtual interviews can help to ease them into new interpersonal relationships. As remote work becomes the norm for many organizations, developing an effective virtual interview process can do double duty by helping you adapt to the changing world of work and also implement an inclusive hiring process.
When it comes to communication, we’re taught to look for certain cues: direct eye-contact, smiling, and nodding. These behaviours are often associated with positive interactions. But candidates with disabilities may communicate differently. People with disabilities related to mental health may avoid eye-contact. People with speech impediments may stutter or choose to communicate through written notes. People with hearing impairments may require an ASL (American Sign Language) translator or frequently ask you to repeat yourself. Practicing patience and understanding when interviewing people with disabilities will put them at ease and help them interact with confidence. This also means speaking with the candidate directly. People with certain disabilities may require the help of support people, like translators, during an interview. But avoid communicating with the support person. Maintain eye-contact with the candidate, ask questions directly, and focus on their responses. By respecting and adapting to their communication needs, you can convey your ability to support them as an employer.
To innovate, hiring a diverse workforce is crucial. Different perspectives, ideas, and experience give organizations a competitive edge and bring value to your customers. By adapting your recruitment, selection, and development strategies to meet the needs of talent with disabilities, your organization is taking an important step to increase diversity in a meaningful way.