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Candidate Experience Blog Series Part 3: How to Avoid Unconscious Bias Toward Job Seekers with Disabilities

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How to Avoid Unconscious Bias Toward Job Seekers with Disabilities

DO NOT ASSUME! It’s the number one rule for disability inclusion, and one of the primary keys to understanding and creating a positive candidate experience for job seekers with disabilities. Employers shouldn’t make assumptions about a candidate’s ability to perform a job based on a disclosed disability, or speculation of one. Recognizing and addressing stigmatization or assumptions is an important step that will help attract more candidates and create a culture of inclusion.

Quite often, employers don’t recognize they are exhibiting unconscious bias or stigma that’s contributing to negative experiences for job seekers with disabilities. Consider the following scenarios:

·         If you schedule a candidate with a perfect resume for a phone interview and the candidate uses a relay call, does that change your perception about the candidate?

·         If a qualified candidate applies for a customer service role and has a speech impediment, are they less qualified than a candidate without one?

·         If a candidate has a visible disability, shouldn’t he/she self-disclose and tell me what exactly it is?

Each scenario implies unconscious biases and stigmas that can contribute to missed opportunities for candidates and are reasons why they may not self-disclose.

How to Avoid Unconscious Bias Toward Job Candidates with Disabilities

Here are a few ideas employers should consider when aiming to avoid exhibiting unconscious bias toward candidates with disabilities:

·         Ask candidates questions specific to the jobs they are applying for, just as you would any other candidate.

·         Don’t let fear or unfamiliarity with disabilities cause you to lose good job candidates. Often people avoid situations that are uncomfortable or unfamiliar, like participating in a relay call with a candidate who is deaf or hard of hearing.

·         Having a visible disability doesn’t mean a candidate is required to disclose the disability. If an accommodation needs to be requested, the candidate will need to disclose the disability. Ultimately, candidates want to be interviewed and treated as any other candidate would be treated.

Additional Etiquette Tips

In addition to following certain guidelines to avoid unconscious bias in the workplace, employers should also follow general disability etiquette tips to show consideration and respect for candidates with disabilities:

·         Interpreters for those who are deaf or hard of hearing should be positioned next to, or slightly behind you. Maintain eye contact with the candidate.

·         Make sure you are in a well-lit and quiet area, do not over enunciate, keep hands away from your mouth, do not eat or chew gum.

·         Have a paper and pen ready in case it helps to write out a sentence.

·         Ask someone who is using a wheelchair, or other mobility aids, if they need assistance first before helping.

·         Be more descriptive and specific when giving directions to a candidate who is blind or low vision. Tell them that the chair is 10 steps in front of them to their right at two o’clock, for example.

·         Do not pretend to understand what someone said if you don’t. Ask them to repeat what was said or write it down for clarification.

·         It is okay to shake a candidate’s prosthetic hand or arm if they also extend it for a handshake. The candidate can also be greeted by a light touch on the shoulder, smile or nod if they have limited mobility, hand use, or don’t feel comfortable shaking hands.

·         Shaking hands with your left hand is also acceptable.

·         Do not touch service animals unless given permission. The animal is working.

Tips for Recruiters and Hiring Managers

The tips below are important for everyone to know, but are especially important for recruiters and hiring managers:

·         Never ask someone if they have a disability or what it is, even if it is visible. Disclosure is up to the individual. You can, however, ask if the candidate will be able to perform the job with or without accommodations.

·         Candidates with disabilities may have gaps in work history due to medical leave or taking leave as a caregiver. Ask as you normally would, “Tell me about what you were doing between years ‘x’ and ‘x’.” Do not ask, “Why weren’t you working during this time?”

·         If a disability is visible, or has been disclosed, continue to ask function-related questions for the job that was applied for, as you would for a nondisabled candidate.

·         Ask, “Do you have suggestions for how we can make the workplace wheelchair friendly?” Do not ask, “Will you/how will you be able to do this job in a wheelchair?”

·         Do not ask, “How many days were you absent from work last year due to an illness?” or, “Have you ever had a workplace injury?”

·         If a candidate discloses to the recruiter that they have a disability, the disability should not be disclosed from the recruiter to the hiring manager unless an accommodation has been requested or the interview/application process, and the disclosure is necessary for the accommodation to be granted.

For more tips on recognizing and addressing unconscious bias, along with tips on recruitment and what to say and what not to say, download our e-book.

For additional recruitment, interviewing, and workplace etiquette tips, visit the Job Accommodation Network.

For more resources and guidance on Unconscious Bias and Etiquette, contact the CareerCircle team at

Contributions to this blog were made by Andraéa LaVant of Solutions Marketing Group.