Accessible hiring practices to solve for The Great Resignation


Image of a masked woman in a wheelchair sitting with three masked colleagues at an office.
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Meagan Taylor


Meagan Taylor, a project manager at Deque Systems, is passionate about dismantling systemic barriers to capital and opportunity, including on the web.

Employees across industries are quitting their jobs. One recent study reported that one in four people quit their job this year. Whether we want to chalk it up to career moves that were delayed due to the uncertain pandemic economy, a reevaluation of work environments, or a revolt against unsatisfactory employers, one thing is certain: It’s a job seeker’s market, with more than 10 million job openings as of November.

Many of these job seekers have disabilities, as these employees were disproportionately impacted by COVID-related layoffs – March to April 2020 saw a 20% reduction in workers with disabilities. With so many organizations already reevaluating their commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, recruiters need to identify access as a key ingredient for developing a workplace that welcomes all.

Not only is deploying accessible hiring practices the right thing to do – and a requirement under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) – but it could also help mitigate widespread labor shortages, connecting companies to a large, talented pool of applicants.

But before developing strategies for reaching applicants with disabilities, there are some myths and misconceptions to confront.

Myth: We’d have to lower our hiring standards if we want to include people with disabilities.

Facts: People with disabilities often outperform others. What’s more, companies inclusive to people with disabilities see 28% greater annual revenue as a result of increased innovation that develops inclusive products to capture new markets.

Myth: Employees with disabilities will have a higher rate of absence than others.

Facts: People with disabilities often track equal or better attendance rates. They also have lower turnover rates, a problem that’s greatly impacted productivity in 2021.

Myth: Accommodations will be too expensive.

Facts: First, 56% of accommodations have zero cost. And of those that do incur a cost, 50% cost less than $500. Add in the increased profits and shareholder returns expected from disability-inclusive hiring, and organizations can only expect to gain.

Once organizations realize the positive impact of a culture of accessibility, they can begin exploring ways to hire candidates with disabilities using these guidelines from Loule Gebremedhin and Jennifer Stark of Disability Rights California, a public advocacy organization advancing the rights of Californians with disabilities.

Phase 1: Recruitment

Look in the mirror

Before even embarking on the recruitment process, organizations need to look inward. It’s not just a matter of realizing the facts and accepting people with disabilities as competent employees. It’s about valuing the expertise and experience of employees with disabilities and creating an environment that supports their professional growth.

Set clear goals by asking questions: What is our current culture around disabilities? Are we prepared to accommodate growth and retention? How does an equitable hiring process connect to our bigger goals?

Part of this internal review should focus on benefits. It’s no secret that great benefits can often be the deal-maker or -breaker for any candidate as they weigh opportunities. For people with disabilities, the stakes are higher. For many, a comprehensive physical and mental healthcare plan is a top consideration in selecting an employer.

Remote work is another important benefit. We’ve all witnessed the advantages of working from home this year, from a lower commute time/cost, greater flexibility around childcare and higher productivity. People with disabilities saw these advantages, too, along with the ability to design a personal work environment that meets their needs — for example, people with low vision can dictate how much light they need in the room to best support them.

Prepare the application

Next, recruiters need to revise job descriptions and applications to ensure they’re disability-friendly. Rather than talking about how a job needs to get done, reframe descriptions to focus on the end skills needed to accomplish goals (e.g., strong oral communication versus the ability to effectively communicate). This guide from the Employee Assistance and Resource Network can help develop descriptions.

Locating and filling out job applications is a top challenge for people with disabilities, with many digital applications not meeting accessibility requirements. This not only diminishes the number of applicants with disabilities, but can also open organizations to legal risk under the ADA. Training and tools that help developers produce accessible sites and forms supporting the application process are easy ways to ensure all qualified candidates have equal access while simultaneously maintaining compliance.

Phase 2: Interviews

Proactively accommodate

People with disabilities are accustomed to requesting accommodations – but what if they didn’t have to? An interview process that offers accommodations upfront confirms to job seekers that accessibility matters to the organization (and it’s also required under the ADA).

For example, for in-person interviews, consider whether a person in a wheelchair could easily get to the location. For virtual interviews, double-check that your meeting platform has automated captioning switched on at the very least. Even better if you’ve got a live captioner or ASL provider available.

Train hiring managers

Hiring managers’ biases are at the core of the low employment rates for people with disabilities. Organizations can play an active role in building awareness and mitigating bias by implementing training around basic disability etiquette and ethical, ADA-compliant questioning. Including people with disabilities on hiring panels can also increase mindfulness of disabilities.

Phase 3: Offers

When it’s time to hire employees with disabilities, organizations need to take steps to provide an offer that’s both competitive and meets candidates’ needs.

  • Ensure compensation is on par with similar roles across the industry – Remember that people with disabilities are often unfairly paid less, with some policies still in place allowing workers with disabilities to be paid less than minimum wage.
  • Create a system for providing accommodations – Ensure potential employees know they can request accommodations and have a policy for responding to and meeting requests. The Job Accommodation Network can help provide insight into which accommodations to provide.
  • Build mentoring and retention programs – Offer specialized mentoring, education, and networking opportunities to support growth and leadership.

Over the past year, organizations have made great strides in considering diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace. Accessibility is part of this equation and needs to be seen as such for organizations to meet their overarching goals.

Beyond doing the right thing, fostering a hiring process that seeks candidates with disabilities and provides an environment in which they can thrive can help mitigate current staffing gaps, power innovation, and support a strong organizational culture.

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