National Accessibility Week will take place from May 30th to June 5th. According to the 2017 Canadian Survey on Disability, more than 6 million Canadians aged 15 and over (22% of the Canadian population) identify as having a disability, and the true numbers are likely higher. But only 59% of Canadians with disabilities, who are aged 25 to 64 are employed, compared to 80% of Canadians without disabilities. People with disabilities consistently face systemic barriers and discrimination when accessing employment. This can make it particularly challenging for them to succeed in job interviews. As companies shift much of their hiring, including job interviews, online, thanks to the pandemic, it is essential to reflect on how we can make interview processes more accessible and inclusive for everyone.
As an employer, there are lots of ways you can tweak your job interviews to support a range of people with disabilities. When you make these changes to your interview process, you make it more accessible for everyone. You don’t need to wait for a person with accessibility concerns to walk into an interview to implement any of these changes. Taking steps now positions your company as an employer who cares about their employees and supporting diversity in all its forms.
offer an opportunity for candidates to disclose their condition before the interview by offering accommodations
Sometimes it can be difficult to know when it’s safe to bring up a disability without judgment from an employer. Signal to candidates that you’re open to making accommodations if they have a disability or need support during a job interview. One way to do this is to ask if they need any special accommodations for a disability when booking the interview. But remember that candidates do not have to disclose their condition if they do not feel comfortable. You can also have a confidential third person from HR that candidates can contact by email or phone should they need accommodations. However, the best thing you can do is make sure your interview process is accessible to every candidate who walks through your door, whether they disclose a disability or not.
provide information about the interview in advance
Many people with disabilities thrive when they are given information they can process in advance. They like knowing what to expect so they can plan ahead. Providing written or visual instructions on aspects of the interview such as: how to reach your workplace, what to do when they arrive, a detailed timetable, the names and roles of the people they will be meeting, and even a list of questions you plan to ask can help neurodiverse candidates and people with disabilities prepare and feel more at ease.
creating an accessible environment
Before the candidate comes for the interview, make sure your space is accessible for them. If the interview takes place in a physical space, ask yourself a few questions beforehand: Is your building accessible? Do you have an access ramp? Do you have a push button to open the door? Are there any stairs people in wheelchairs or with vision impairment should be aware of? Is the physical space for the interview large enough to welcome a person in a wheelchair? Try to assess your space and anticipate accommodations people with disabilities may need to make your space accessible for everyone. If your interview is virtual, do you have a live captioning option on your platform? Reflecting on all these important pieces will help provide a more accessible environment for the interview.
offer a quiet area for candidates to wait before the interview
Simply having a quiet waiting area for the candidate to wait in can help people with disabilities feel more at ease. Candidates with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), for example, are often sensitive to noise and their surroundings. A bustling waiting room can be distracting or make them uncomfortable, which is not going to put them in the right mindset to ace an interview. If you don’t have an appropriate waiting area, allowing candidates to wait in the quiet interview room until their interviewer shows up is a safe workaround. In the new online context, make sure to create a welcoming environment for every candidate when you greet them in the virtual interview space. Make sure to introduce yourself properly and ask if they have any specific needs for the interview in a virtual setting.
avoid open and hypothetical interview questions
People with disabilities, specifically people with ASD, often have trouble thinking abstractly, such as answering ‘what if’ questions. They may also have difficulty answering open questions that leave it up to the candidate to decide how much information to disclose. These types of questions have become quite commonplace in interviews. An easy way to avoid ‘what if’ questions is to ask about a previous experience instead, for example, ‘tell me about a time when...’ These types of questions allow the candidate to frame the answer in reality. Just make sure to be specific and not too open-ended. If a candidate has a disability you feel may impact their performance on the job, do not ask if it will be a problem to do the job or task. Instead, ask the candidate how they see themselves completing the task. People with disabilities know their skill sets very well and can explain how they navigate certain tasks.
be very literal when asking questions
Some people with neurological disabilities, such as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), may be extremely literal, so avoid idioms or phrases that can be unclear when you’re asking questions in interviews. For instance, a candidate with ASD may hear the question ‘how did you find your last job’ and tell you about how they physically got to work. Use straightforward, clear language, but do not talk down to candidates or be condescending (i.e. no need to use small words or over enunciate). People with disabilities are often very intelligent and capable of answering a direct question, their brain may just process language differently.
provide opportunities to break, especially in long interviews
If the interview is going to be more than 30 minutes, offer candidates the option to take a break from answering questions. For some people with disabilities, long periods of concentration and social interaction can be challenging. Allowing a bathroom break, a chance to grab a beverage, or even signaling at the beginning of the interview that the candidate can ask for a break whenever they need one can be helpful.
allow candidates to bring and refer to written notes
Bringing written notes can help some people with disabilities gather their thoughts and make sure they don’t miss anything important that they wanted to talk about in the interview. Some people with disabilities may need accommodations and prefer written or visual mediums since they may struggle with written or verbal language and communication.
offer a work trial to see their skills in action
Some candidates with disabilities may struggle with articulating their skills and explaining how they can apply them to your workplace. One workaround for this is to offer a work trial in lieu of a more expansive interview. This serves the dual purposes of allowing you to see the candidate’s skills in action, and allowing the candidate to get a feel for your work environment and if it would suit their needs and preferences.
additional resources to create an accommodating workplace
We also recently created a series of resources on accommodating candidates with Autism Spectrum Disorder. You can check out our guides on:
- what you need to know about hiring people with ASD
- making job interviews accessible for people with ASD