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How to hire disabled candidates

Being inclusive of disabled candidates doesn't have to be complicated; it involves being flexible and asking the right questions

By Miriam Partington in Berlin

Startups often overthink how to accommodate disabled candidates during a recruitment process — when really, all it takes is asking the right questions and being flexible in your approach. Parma Sira, a small business disability adviser at Smarter London SMEs, consults startups on how to hire disabled candidates and help them settle into their new workplaces. 

For our Startup Life newsletter, we asked Sira for his top tips on doing just that.

Rethink how you design job descriptions

Sometimes, job descriptions can exclude disabled candidates without even meaning to because they focus too much on how a task has to be done rather than what has to be done. For example, by writing “must be able to touch type” on a job description, you might put off some disabled candidates from applying. Instead, you could write “must produce accurate reports using a word processing package”. In other words, there’s flexibility in how they can complete that task.

Additionally, think about whether what you’re asking for is absolutely essential. For example, a lot of job descriptions ask for candidates to be educated to degree standard — but some disabled candidates may have had non-traditional educations. If you put things that aren’t totally necessary in job advertisements, you could miss out on great candidates.

Make job ads accessible

It’s a good idea to include an inclusivity statement on your job ads saying that you are committed to including disabled candidates and are willing to make adjustments for them throughout the recruitment process. But there are more subtle ways to be accessible too.

Above all, include an email address and/or a phone number on the job description. This will allow an applicant to safely disclose their disability, inquire about the recruitment process and ask for adjustments to be made for them.

It’s also important to offer job advertisements in various formats. For example, if a candidate has a visual impairment, they might need a large print version or an audio version.

Make adjustments for interviews with disabled candidates

The first thing you should do for any new hire is to ask them whether they need anything specific provided for them during the interview — so you can prepare the setup accordingly. The key is to be flexible and tailor your approach for each candidate.

For example, candidates with neurodiverse conditions might struggle to follow social cues or process information differently, making open-ended questions uncomfortable for them. In this case, ask closed questions — ie those requiring quantitative information — so they can better focus on producing an answer.

Again, consider whether what you’re asking candidates to do is really relevant to the job. For example, it’s common to ask candidates to give a presentation — which for some people with verbal communication difficulties or mental health conditions can be challenging. If publicly presenting is not critical to the role you’re advertising for, then don’t make it part of the interview.

Be prepared to adapt

Being inclusive means giving people the opportunity to tell you what they need from the start — and then ensuring your recruitment process, and indeed your workplace, can incorporate those things. For example, if a candidate cannot make a 9am interview because they have a health condition which means they take longer to get ready in the morning — then adjust the interview time. If an employee requires accessible technology — like a screen reader or Braille typewriter — provide for it or ask whether they would prefer to bring their own.

On the subject of designing an inclusive hiring process

🗣️ Making language more inclusive. Startups should ensure recruiters pay attention to language they use when drafting job descriptions to ensure they’re not deterring women, candidates of colour and people with disabilities.

👐 Attracting candidates. One from the Sifted archive about how startups can proactively support people with disabilities — from making office buildings accessible to installing accessibility software — to ensure they are attracting, rather than dissuading, quality hires.

🤔 Disclosing your disability. Lizz Schumer, who lives with an ‘invisible’ chronic illness, shares how candidates can tell employers about their disability — and at what point they should.

🦉 Wising up. Neurodiverse people — that have autism, ADHD, dyslexia and Tourette syndrome, among other learning and mental health differences — can positively impact the diversity of thinking at companies. Yet many job seekers struggle to get past the interview process. Here’s what you can do about it.

💻 Accessible websites. There are simple things you may never have thought of that can help make your company website accessible to everyone: from structuring information in an easy-to-read format to removing flashing widgets or videos.

Miriam Partington is Sifted’s Germany correspondent. She also covers future of work, coauthors Sifted’s Startup Life newsletter and tweets from @mparts_

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