The following article was authored by Angie Vandersteen from Indianapolis-based disability partner, Tangram Business Resourcing in support of National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM).

Someone has applied for your open position. He has a stellar résumé and checks all the boxes for the qualifications of the job. You look forward to the interview, knowing that this is the employee you have been waiting for.

He comes in, gives a disappointing handshake, doesn’t look you in the eye, takes a little longer to answer questions, and doesn’t give elaborate answers. But, his hard skills are still there. After the interview, you feel deflated—it’s back to the drawing board because someone who lacks these soft skills isn’t a good fit for the job, are they? This person lacks charisma and charm and a sense of humor. You can’t hire them.

Or can you?

Does this sound familiar? This is a true story of a man with a college degree, work experience, and…Autism. He is underemployed and looking for a new career, but he can’t get past the interview process.

Unfortunately, this scenario plays out in workplaces across the nation on a regular basis. Companies are missing out on great employees. A lack of disability awareness and etiquette training coupled with misconceptions about disability lead to missed opportunities. It’s time to think differently about disabilities, so that your business can take advantage of this labor pool and boost your bottom line. Let’s dive in!

1 in 4 people in the U.S. has a disability, according to the most recent data by the Centers for Disease Control. These individuals are the largest minority group in the country and represent $220 billion in discretionary spending. Studies have shown that businesses benefit by hiring people with disabilities. They have lower turnover, less absenteeism, and they see improved morale and a more positive work environment as a by-product of diversity. Yet, companies are still slow to hire from this group, leading to an unemployment rate that is double that of individuals without disabilities. Why?

One of the greatest barriers to employment for people with disabilities is fear of the unknown on the part of employers. Common fears include:

  • Fear of how other employees and customers will be accepting to people with disabilities
  • Fear of how to supervise someone with a disability
  • Fear of safety concerns in the workplace
  • Fear of communicating with someone with a disability
  • Fear of what happens if it doesn’t work out

These fears are real, especially for those that have no or very little interaction with disabilities. People with disabilities want to be treated like anyone else and they want a career not just a job. People with disabilities are still stigmatized with low expectations, and have a 2x higher unemployment rate compared to their peers without a disability. By addressing fears and stigmas, we begin to see the person and not their disability.

The Interview Process

One way of addressing our biases is to learn about different types of disabilities, visible and invisible. More than 70% of disabilities are not visible. Learning about different disabilities will help ensure you are not dismissing a qualified candidate during the interview process. Do not underestimate or overestimate, communicate to get a sense of who they are and what skills they have to offer. Don’t make assumptions.

Evaluating and adjusting your interview processes is also a critical step in ensuring you are not unintentionally weeding out candidates with disabilities. Ways to make the interview process more inclusive include:

  1. Updating the checklist. If your company uses a checklist to grade candidates during the interview, make sure the checklist focuses on the individual’s skills and experience, and not on social skills, such as eye contact and firm handshakes, especially if these skills are not essential functions of a job.
  2. Eliminate large group interviews. These can be intimidating for some with disabilities and also focus more on fitting in to the group, not skills for the job.
  3. Have the interviewee do a project instead of answer questions so they can show they have the skills to do the work. Companies like Microsoft have started using this approach to better highlight someone’s aptitude to do the job.
  4. Consider providing the interview questions ahead of time. Few jobs utilize pop-quiz testing, but that is how we conduct interviews. Providing questions ahead of time can give those with processing issues time to prepare their responses.

As an employer, the job interview plays a critical role in the hiring process.  Addressing fears, stigmas and assumptions about disabilities with your team will help ensure you are not missing an opportunity to hire the best person for the job.

Interviewing Tips for Success

  1. The average time to let someone answer a question is 1.5 seconds. If someone is taking longer to answer a question, give him or her an extra second to answer. Many people are visual thinkers and learners. They need a little extra time to process the question.
  2. If the person doesn’t understand the question, reword and clarify. Keep your questions straightforward and concrete
  3. Be yourself.

By thinking differently about disabilities and your interview processes, you can reap the positive benefits of disability inclusion and begin to build a culture that values diversity and inclusion. As we continue the celebration of National Disability Inclusion Awareness Month this month, we challenge you to embrace diversity in all of its forms by implementing some of these strategies.

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