Is Your Recruitment Process Disability-Friendly?

People with disabilities historically have had lower rates of employment and workforce participation. But with the overall unemployment rate remaining under 4 percent in the U.S., employers including Microsoft, Walgreen and JPMorgan Chase are creating inclusive recruitment programs for individuals with disabilities to help close this talent gap.

“With over 1 billion people with disabilities around the world, it has never been more important to ensure that company culture reflects the diversity of the global marketplace,” says Neil Barnett, director of inclusive hiring and accessibility at Microsoft. “There is a significant amount of untapped talent.”

And tapping into that talent pays off, says Nancy Geenen, CEO of the Galt Foundation, a temporary staffing company that expands employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities.

She points to a 2018 Accenture study of 140 U.S. companies that touted the economic value of a diverse workforce. “Companies that had very strong disability and inclusion programs were more profitable, had higher revenue, higher net income, and returned more to shareholders than their peers who did not have disability and inclusion programs in place,” Geenen says.

But if employers want to attract a diverse talent pool, they need recruitment strategies that don’t put up barriers to employment. Here’s how employers can do a better job of making sure their recruitment processes are inclusive.

Eliminate Barriers

Employers who want to ensure that their recruitment processes are inclusive of people with disabilities should start by reaching out to employees with disabilities or to nonprofit partners who work with indvidiuals with disabilities.

Barnett suggests evaluating your entire recruitment process for barriers or obstacles to inclusion. “Start by assessing if your website and career page are easily accessible,” he says. “Engage with people with disabilities at your company or with nonprofit disability partners to walk through your public channels and ask for feedback on their experience.”

Language in job materials can be a real barrier to inclusivity — and those barriers can be difficult for hiring managers to spot, says Kyle Elliott, a career coach for disability-inclusive hiring practices. “One of the main areas where people can be more inclusive is including people who live with disabilities in the recruitment process and getting their feedback in creating recruitment processes,” he says.

Without input from individuals with disabilities, hiring managers and employers can include language that put up unnecessary barriers, Elliott says. “Oftentimes we don't realize we have language that is barring people from applying for jobs, such as ‘He must be able to lift 40 pounds,’ ” he says. “Language like that is often unnecessary. Very few jobs actually require you to lift 40 pounds.”

On the other hand, employers should avoid tokenism or requiring individuals with disabilities to participate in the recruitment process, Elliott says. “Involve stakeholders and open it up to people who are in the positions you’re hiring for — invite them in,” he says.

Don’t Neglect Training

Creating inclusive hiring practices means training anyone involved in the recruitment process in accessibility and inclusivity, says David Pollard, innovations project manager at Rehab Group, a nonprofit that champions inclusion for people with disabilities. “Ensure that staff involved in the recruitment process, from senior management to line managers, received training in the practical implementation of your diversity strategy so they can make reasonable adjustments to the recruitment process,” Pollard says.

Geenen says that helping your hiring managers and employees better understand what accessible and inclusive hiring practices entail is crucial to successful recruitment efforts, although this terrain can be complex. “When we talk about finding and recruiting individuals with disabilities, we're talking about getting systems and processes in place that many of us aren't even aware of,” she says. “So there's a bit of an education piece there.”

Barnett says education is crucial for successful inclusive hiring initiatives. “It’s important to train your employees and recruiters on disability etiquette, in order to introduce them to some of the [basic] concepts used around disability and accessibility in the workplace,” he says.

Tap into Outside Resources

One way to navigate accessibility and inclusion in hiring is to look to external partners and industry leaders for training materials and guidelines for developing inclusive hiring initiatives. “We encourage others looking for inclusive hiring best practices to visit Microsoft’s Inclusive Hiring for People with Disabilities website,” Barnett says.

Other resources for employers, such as Getting Hired, a recruitment company that helps employers hire professional individuals with disabilities, and the Employer Assistance and Resource Network, can provide training and resources to your hiring managers and HR professionals.

Barnett also suggests building relationships with a university’s disability resource centers. “They will not only help provide insight on how your organization can adopt more inclusive hiring practices, but will also put you in touch with candidates with disabilities that may be interested in applying,” he says.