Marie Pye explores the barriers faced by disabled candidates in recruitment. From diversifying your recruitment sources and designing an inclusive application and interview process, to reasonable adjustments and policies, Marie shares tips on how to create a successful disability recruitment process.
With low unemployment rates, record numbers of vacancies and evidence of the “great resignation” employers are finding it increasingly difficult to fill key roles. However, the numbers of disabled people employed within organisations remains low, so this is a great opportunity for employers to fill vacancies and disabled people to find the right job.
The 2021 census told us that there were over 10 million disabled people in England and Wales but the UK Government’s official statistics on the employment of disabled people in 2022 shows only 4.4 million disabled people are in employment. The disability employment rate was nearly 53% compared to 81% in the general population.
Recruiting disabled candidates
There is a general perception that disabled people are primarily in low paid jobs but many work for SMEs, run their own businesses and they are just as likely to be in “quality jobs” as the general population. 380,000 disabled people move into work each year.
So why are many employers struggling to increase the percentage of disabled employees within their organisations? Often the root of this problem lies in the recruitment process, which is very much designed for non-disabled people and presents unintentional barriers.
The situation does not have to be like this and organisations that have really looked at their employment practices, with the support of disabled people and disabled experts in this area, have seen their employment rates of disabled people increase.
However, an organisation has to be committed to looking at and possibly changing their recruitment and employment practices to make them inclusive from end to end. Here are just a few ideas to help on that journey.
Avoiding unintentional barriers to your disability recruitment
The first question to ask is why would a disabled person want to work for our organisation? Review the external image of your organisation – do you ever feature disabled people in your promotional material? Is your website up to the latest accessibility standards? Are you a Disability Confident employer? Do you ever talk about the importance of disability equality or the work you are doing to be more inclusive on social media?
Having a good hard look at yourselves from the perspective of a disabled person will help you to make your organisation more attractive to disabled applicants.
Removing unnecessary requirements from the job description
Starting to improve recruitment practices to employ more disabled people starts in the same place that any recruitment campaign will begin – the identification of a job role which needs filling, the elements which are identified as making up that job and the skills which would be necessary to fulfil these elements.
It is essential that the requirements of the job are looked at carefully focusing on what is really essential. Does the job really need to undertake all of those tasks? Could some of them be done other ways?
Many organisations have questioned for example whether they need to require employees to be able to drive when in fact they just need them to be able to travel. Another example could be requiring somebody to be a fluent and articulate communicator when communication is not a key part of the role or could still be achieved without being fluent.
When describing the job and the skills that are needed it is important to use inclusive language, not to use jargon or ambiguous terms, which is particularly important for neurodivergent people, and try to focus on essential skills rather than qualifications.
Diversifying your recruitment sources
Broaden the channels through which you recruit candidates to reach a more diverse pool of applicants. This could mean approaching a recruitment agency that has a strong track record of inclusive recruitment or sharing your vacancy with organisations of disabled people, special interest groups or job boards.
Make sure any advert does not use jargon, does not specify any requirements that are not absolutely essential, includes inclusive imagery and preferably makes a strong statement that you welcome applications from disabled people.
Consider engaging disabled people in testing your attraction and selection processes and adapt as necessary, removing unnecessary barriers or providing alternatives.
Creating an inclusive application process
Getting the application process right is key. Many organisations report that disabled people enquire about jobs but are not successful in their application.
First, review your application process to make sure it is not unconsciously introducing any barriers. For example, be flexible on how you receive applications such as format and online/offline. Are you using a traditional application form, which may not be accessible to some disabled people?
Secondly, consider whether there are alternative ways people could apply or different information that they could provide you with. Some organisations now request work samples or portfolios from all candidates to evaluate their capabilities in real-world projects related to the role they are applying for. This can be particularly useful for people who are neurodivergent for example, and may get you more relevant information than the traditional responses to set questions.
Ensuring the interview basics are in place
Interviews can be daunting for any candidate, but they can be particularly stressful for many disabled people. Not knowing if the building and interview room will be accessible, not knowing if the panel will have any experience of interviewing disabled people and not being sure that your reasonable adjustments will be in place.
So, get the basics sorted. The building and the room that you use should meet good standards of accessibility and you should provide access information, including a map, to all candidates. Do not forget to make sure that there are things like accessible toilets nearby and that the area where candidates will wait is quiet and calm. It is important to ask all candidates, not just those who you think may be disabled, if the environment is good for them for the interview and to make any changes.
Some organisations offer a guaranteed interview to any disabled applicants who meet the essential criteria for the role. This is also part of the government’s Disability Confident scheme. This is something that organisations could consider, and many disabled people find it really useful.
However, other disabled people have raised concerns that they get lots of interviews, which is in itself stressful and time-consuming, but never get the role. They then worry this is because of guaranteed interviews just ticking a box. However, offering a guaranteed interview does mean that that a disabled person may get the opportunity to really present themselves and help to overcome any unconscious bias.
The interview panel
The interview panel should be trained in inclusive recruitment and preferably in disability etiquette as this will ensure a positive environment for the disabled candidate. They do not need to know if somebody has requested a reasonable adjustment – this should be facilitated by somebody who is not on the panel.
If a traditional question and answer session is the basis of the interview, then think about using open ended questions and make sure you ask everybody the same questions in order to eliminate any unintentional bias. Be aware that if you are asking for a presentation this may be challenging for some disabled people particularly those who use access technology which they may not necessarily be able to bring with them or be familiar with what you could provide.
The assessment process
If your assessment process includes things like written tests or aptitude/ psychometric tests, consider how these types of tests could present a number of barriers for disabled people – from not having familiar technology to complete the tests through, to differences in the way people approach things, there are numerous factors which may affect the results of a psychometric test.
Jan St John Knight who is an expert in recruiting neurodivergent people makes a series of suggestions for alternative ways of assessing people which can be really helpful.
These include utilising virtual reality simulations to assess candidates’ problem-solving, communication, and decision-making skills in a controlled and immersive environment. Designing gamified assessments encourage candidates to complete in interactive tasks which can provide valuable insight into their strengths and abilities. Offering short term trial of project-based periods to assess candidates’ performance is another alternative to an interview.
These will not necessarily suit all applicants, but they could be useful for people who are neurodivergent and others.
For all disabled candidates it is worth considering allowing extra time for the interview or assessment process. It is also good practice to provide candidates with the questions in advance as this may also make the process easier.
Making reasonable adjustments
Adjustments will be required by many disabled people even if you have got the basics right. Candidates should be made aware from the beginning that their adjustments will be provided and that they will be involved in every stage of putting these together. There should be one person to contact about adjustments and they should not be somebody who is involved in the selection process, rather someone who is skilled in accessibility and the provision of adjustments.
The disabled person should be closely involved in the process, providing information about what is needed, confirming that proposed adjustments are suitable and are reassured that everything will be in place on the day. You may wish to invite the disabled person in beforehand to check that the adjustments all work correctly.
Embedding disability recruitment into your policies and practice
Increasing the number of disabled people within your workforce is not something that will be achieved overnight and once you have recruited a couple of people is not something you should stop doing!
There is a lot which can be done to improve the recruitment process but make sure that these improvements are embedded within your recruitment policies and guidance and that you have a clear strategy for inclusive recruitment, and it is something you are committed to in the long term.