October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, and this topic has special significance to me. Several of my close family members live with disabilities, and the more I learn, the more I want to support this community.
Persons with disabilities are disproportionately under-employed. In 2020, only 17.9% of people with a disability were employed compared to 61.8% of people without a disability, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. Companies are missing out on vibrant talent. And, if you’re a candidate with a disability, you may wonder whether companies will judge you based on this, rather than your skill set, or if they’re prepared to accommodate you in the workplace.
A more inclusive workplace starts with a more inclusive recruitment and hiring process. Here’s how companies and candidates can work towards this goal together:
1.Focus on skills.
Candidates: You don’t need to disclose a disability on your resume or job application. Highlight your skills and relevant experience first, and if desired, you can mention it briefly in previous experience without excessive details.
Employers: Individuals with disabilities are some of the most innovative people I know since they must creatively adapt to life around them. Ask about a time they’ve solved a problem and give them a chance to highlight their skills and experience.
2.Share what’s needed for the job.
Candidates: If you require special accommodations, let your potential employer know during an HR screening call or initial interview. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires your employer to provide special computer equipment or modified workplace furnishings, accessible parking spots and entrances, convenient break facilities, and more.
Employers: The ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability. Additionally, an employer can’t discriminate in recruiting, hiring, promotions, training, pay, or social activities. If you’re interviewing a person with a disability, share what your company is doing to be more inclusive.
For example, Bank of America’s Hidden Disabilities Series tackles topics like mental health awareness, learning disabilities, and suicide prevention through webinars, articles, and personal storytelling. Raytheon Technologies launched its #iCount Self-Identification campaign, using videos, blogs, and emails from senior leaders to create an environment where everyone counts.
3.Focus on your strengths.
Candidates: You know what your strengths are and the unique skills you bring to a particular role, so don’t shy away from them. In some cases, you may even get to demonstrate those strengths on the fly.
One candidate I worked with has been hearing impaired since he was young, and a translator typically accompanies him to interviews. Once, the translator never arrived, and my candidate was understandably nervous. Despite the flustering situation, he called on his strength of reading lips and navigated the interview flawlessly. The conversation was supposed to be 30 minutes but lasted over an hour because he connected with the interviewer, who had a family member in the same situation.
Employers: Companies that improve their Disability Equality Index score over time are more likely to have higher shareholder returns. While highlighting what you’re doing for employees with disabilities is important—such as an employee resource group or accommodations for off-site company meetings and events—inclusion is an ongoing effort.
Consider adding a centralized accommodations fund and company-wide hiring goals for people with disabilities. You could be missing out on great untapped potential otherwise.
4.Highlight previous job experience.
Candidates: Previous job experience is a great indicator of future success. Play up your strengths to a hiring manager, noting accomplishments and highlighting recent experience directly related to their desired position. Don’t be afraid to ask previous employers for a reference, either. They can further commend your good work and assuage any accommodation concerns a future employer may have.
Employers: Ask about relevant experience during the hiring process. A candidate can expand on their resume and show the knowledge they bring to the role. If there are other candidates with disabilities already employed, this gives you an opportunity to address what the company is doing around accommodation and education.
5.Leverage support groups and free job training.
These are great options for companies and job seekers alike. Disability advocacy and support groups offer advice, resources, research, and free job training. Here are a few of my favorite resources: