The following are questions/concerns expressed by hiring managers about the employment of people with disabilities and the resulting Inclusion Works responses. Some questions have been consolidated or made more general to make the information applicable to a broader audience.

Two woman at a conference table, one of them is signing and smiling

Q: What if our positions have specific qualifications to complete the essential functions of the job and a candidate with a disability is unable to meet any/some of these qualifications?

A: People with disabilities are only qualified if they meet the same requirements as all other candidates. If the disability impacts their ability to do the essential functions of the job, and they will need an accommodation to perform, then they will go through the interactive process with your company to determine what accommodations are reasonable. Examples of specific qualifications include: driving, accessing areas like manufacturing lines, clean rooms, over conveyors, operating power industrial equipment, working flexible shifts, working in stressful positions, lifting, focusing, maintaining productivity standards, maintaining quality standards, attendance, absenteeism, working in small areas, working in wide open areas, sitting all day, standing all day, wearing specific articles of clothing/uniforms, carrying heavy/awkward equipment, and customer service. In some cases, the interactive process may result in a different, yet acceptable, way of performing a job. Examples of these outcomes include sitting on a stool instead of standing, or standing at a desk instead of sitting.

Q: A lot of our jobs are looking for very particular experiences/skills. How can we effectively accommodate someone needing to work offsite or from home as most of our positions cannot offer telework?

A: Finding candidates for positions with very specialized skill sets and experience is, by definition, going to be challenging. This is the case whether or not your company is sourcing from the general or PwD population. Although it is common for people to assume that PwD are more likely to want or need to work from home, it is actually rarely needed as an accommodation. We can think of two situations where this might be appropriate and feasible:

  1. If the job can be done remotely, the company has the tools to support the option, and opening up positions to work from home will significantly expand the available talent pool, resulting in better retention, engagement and productivity, then this is a viable accommodation. Call centers at various firms that have benefited from tapping into this talent pool when it is not required that employees be onsite.
  2. When there is a candidate that has a very unique skill set who can come to the work site periodically, but due to a disability, cannot come in every day. This will be a very rare occurrence, and will not be suggested unless the circumstances are such that there is a win-win for the company and the candidate. This would require thoughtful conversations and implementing an interactive process to gauge how to ensure such an arrangement would not significantly alter the work.

Q: We definitely need to understand the “cost” component of accommodations, the interactive process, and the company’s ability to meet the timeliness, budget and acquisition of those accommodations. How will all employees know how to manage needed accommodations?

A: In terms of the costs associated with an accommodation, research shows that most accommodations are low or no cost with the overall average being about $500. In cases where there is a significant cost and the candidate is a client of the state’s Department of Vocational Rehabilitation they will sometimes cover a significant portion of the accommodation expense.

It is useful to think about this like other commonly offered productivity tools such as low glare computer screen covers, ergonomic desk chairs, and flexible work arrangements. In general, the types of tools and resources PwD request are no more expensive or exotic than these types of tools.

With regards to culture shift and communicating the reasonable accommodations, the Inclusion Works team has a variety of resources to support culture change and facilitate communication. We can work with staff at your company to provide customized training for HR business partners and/or any other colleagues that would benefit and/or are requesting training and support with respect to disability inclusion processes and practices.

Q: Sometimes recruiters are faced with hiring managers who have a tendency to hire the way they always have. How can a recruiter advocate for candidates effectively if they are qualified and have an apparent and/or disclosed disability?

A: The best way to help people broaden their perspective is through education. This may require more than one conversation and dissemination of information to help mitigate unconscious bias. The business case for diversity continues to demonstrate the economic benefits of ensuring that hiring managers are creating a team with diverse experiences, skills and education. Many hiring managers may not be aware of their tendency to hire individuals with similar characteristics. By leveraging case studies, reinforcing the business case, and encouraging hiring managers who have successfully included employees with disabilities to be strong/visible advocates, you can influence managers to be more disability inclusive.

Q: What are strategies HR can utilize to influence how hiring managers interview candidates in order to be more disability inclusive and avoid discriminatory questions?

A: Education is key to ensuring that hiring managers are aware of interviewing “dos and don’ts.” Hiring managers need to be provided with information regarding appropriate behavioral based questions that are objective and focused on the requirements of the job.

Q: Isn’t It Abusive to Hire People with Disabilities?

A: No, there is a large body of research that demonstrates that PwD, like other people, have a much better quality of life when they have the opportunity to engage in meaningful work. It is part of the human condition to want and need to feel valued, challenged, and able to make a positive difference. Being in a collegial work environment and bringing home a paycheck helps most people to have higher self-esteem, experience better health, and appreciate and enjoy other aspects of their lives. People who are recovering from conditions like cancer, depression and diabetes have been shown to have particularly better health outcomes if they continue working. We also see this with older workers who age into disabling conditions.

Q: What if we need to fire a person with a disability because they are a poor performer? Will we be sued for discrimination?

A: This is often an expressed concern but is simply not true. The same performance management process that is used for any other employee should be applied when managing a person with a disability. If a person has been given an opportunity to succeed with support and accommodations and their performance is not meeting the requirements of the job, there is no reason why they cannot be terminated. The underlying concern here is that managers are naturally reluctant and not very good at terminating anyone for poor performance and they imagine it will be even worse if the poor performer has a known disability. Companies experienced in hiring people with disabilities have not had any greater challenge in this regard. Notable exceptions are: if the manager made mistakes such as refusing to provide an accommodation, or permitting/ encouraging a work environment that was hostile towards the person with a disability. These actions would negatively impact anyone’s job performance.

Q: The definition of disability is very broad. How do we verify that a person has a disability? Won’t everyone claim to be disabled to get special treatment?

A: No. The negative consequences associated with stigma around disability far exceed the benefits of getting access to accommodations or other forms of support. An employer may ask someone requesting an accommodation to provide documentation to prove they are living with a disability unless it is apparent. It has been the experience of employers who positively recruit people with disabilities that most people only choose to self identify if: a) they need an accommodation of some kind; or b) there is clear, compelling and sustained evidence that the employer values employees with disabilities, and therefore being a part of this population means that you are valued as key talent in the organization. There is no perceived advantage to being an employee or candidate with a disability; the goal is for everyone to be treated equally, and not receive any special advantage.

Q: How will a person’s disability impact their productivity on the job?

A: The answer to this is situational. In some cases, there may be a longer period of time to ramp up to full productivity due to the learning curve associated with finding/using needed accommodations. However, in most cases there would be little/no difference from employees who do not have a disability. In fact, productivity in organizations hiring large numbers of people with disabilities has gone up dramatically, as much as 20 percent. And, all workers, both those with and without a disability, have shown greatly enhanced engagement through culture surveys. Higher engagement is strongly correlated with increased discretionary effort and improved customer satisfaction.

Q: How will/would disability impact a candidate’s development path and ability to contribute at higher levels both in the job offered and future positions?

A: The opportunity for an employee with a disability to seek and succeed in positions of greater responsibility is primarily driven by three key elements:

  1. Whether or not the manager and other colleagues have high expectations of how much potential the person has to contribute;
  2. If they have the productivity tools and training needed to perform at higher levels;
  3. If greater development opportunities fit their goals – they are ambitious.

Note: These are the same contingencies for growing and developing employees who do not have disabilities and that determine whether any employee will grow into roles that require more leadership and expanded responsibilities.

Q: Are people with disabilities physically, mentally and psychologically able to do the job?

A: It is very likely that at least 10% of your current workforce has a disability. 75% of disabilities are non-apparent, and reluctance to self-identify results in a perception that people with disabilities are not already in the workforce. It is rare for people to self-identify unless they need an accommodation because many people tend to look at disability as an inherent negative or deficiency. In reality, it should be viewed similarly to other dimensions of human difference, simply different from the majority. In the absence of environmental or attitudinal barriers, disability is neutral in terms of anticipated life achievements and overall sense of happiness.

Q: How does a hiring manager speak to a person regarding their disability while remaining compliant?

A: This depends on the circumstances and reasons for speaking to the candidate/employee about the disability. Initially, any hiring manager who is working with PwD should take the time to learn “People First Language.” This means that when you are communicating, you put the person first, not the disability, i.e., person with a disability. If the disability is visible or the person tells you he or she has a disability, you may not ask about the nature or severity of the disability. You may, however, ask about a candidate’s ability to perform the essential functions of the job with or without an accommodation. If an employee is having difficulty performing the essential functions of the job due to a disability, you may ask what they may need to be successful.

Q: What practices or resources does a hiring manager need to utilize in order to ensure the success of employees with disabilities and their coworkers?

A: Follow the same proven management/leadership practices and principles that are typically included in all people management training.

Q: How will I know what a reasonable accommodation is going to require me to do and whether it will result in a productive employee?

A: Similar to any productivity tool that an employee might request, there are no guarantees. For firms that have chosen to positively recruit PwD the return on investment has been significant. It is likely that if your company makes it a practice to invest in recruiting, hiring, developing and retaining PwD, they will achieve similarly positive results.

Managers are not required to personally and independently determine what type of accommodation is needed. There are internal and external resources that can assist with this. Most of the time the person with a disability knows what will work for them. The interactive process, which is simply a candid conversation with the candidate/employee and others as needed, will result in a solution that works for all.

Q: I do not want someone on my team who is depressed or has a history of depression. This may affect other team members and our clients and customers.

A: Depression is rarely evident at work. Since 1 in 5 Americans experiences a significant period of depression at some point in their lives, it is likely that about 20% of your workforce has experienced depression while employed at your company. There are webinars and other resources available through Disability:IN on a variety of topics related to disability inclusion including individuals who experience mental illness. Your Inclusion Works team can help you access these resources to further enhance your knowledge and confidence in addressing disability questions.

Q: Are our facilities ready to hire people with disabilities?

A: It is likely that the majority of your company’s facilities are compliant with building regulations under the Americans with Disabilities Act if they were built or renovated in the last 25 years. It is already normative in the company to provide ergonomic solutions for all employees such as stand up desks, alternate keyboards and customized seating. It is important to note that the majority of adjustments to the work environment are more likely to benefit individuals who do not identify as having a disability. Ramps, closed captioning, adjustable desks and automatic door openers are more often used and appreciated by individuals who do not identify as having a disability, but who find these adjustments and productivity tools make their work lives easier.

Q: How will we address the concerns of coworkers of individuals with disabilities and avoid negative behaviors and attitudes due to discomfort, perceptions of special treatment and/or concerns about increased workload?

A: It is important to know that in companies that have made it a point to hire, retain and develop employees with disabilities, coworkers’ responses have generally been positive. It has also been documented that enhanced engagement and productivity for all employees has occurred. During the initial stages of enhancing disability inclusion, the company can implement various forms of awareness and training available through the Inclusion Works project team including: articles for your company’s intranet; speakers and event planning; participating in Disability Mentoring Day; forming a disability focused Employee Resource Group; case studies, and targeted training. These activities can help to build confidence throughout the workforce in fostering disability inclusion and effectively dispel myths and misconceptions.

Q: Will there be safety issues associated with having people with disabilities in our workforce? How will we safely evacuate people, operate equipment, and otherwise ensure everyone is safe from injury?

A: In work environments that have hired significant numbers of employees with disabilities, the overall level of recordable injuries has decreased. There is no data that suggests safety challenges rise when a company employs people with disabilities. That said, it is prudent to have plans in place to ensure the safe evacuation of all employees in the event of an emergency. The preparedness plan for your company needs to be inclusive of knowing who may need assistance, and having a strategy that has been documented and rehearsed during normal drills. Apart from building evacuations, any other safety strategies would be developed and executed based on the needs of individual employees. This might include a lighting system that accompanies audible alerts and other minor modifications to the work environment based on identified needs. One simple way to assure safety is to implement a “buddy system” for employees who are deaf, visually impaired, have a mobility disability or who otherwise may need extra assistance during an emergency.

Q: What if an employee needs assistance while at work? Who will provide that assistance?

A: Generally, if an employee needs some form of assistance, a third party provider, such as a sign language interpreter, reader, or personal assistant, provides this. The Inclusion Works staff can assist in identifying these types of resources.

Q: Won’t we be at risk of violating confidentiality regulations like HIPAA if we inquire what candidates and/or employees with disabilities need to perform their job?

A: The conversation with a candidate or employee requesting an accommodation should be focused on the duties of the job and what is needed for them to contribute at their full potential and meet the position’s performance standards. There is no need, nor is it legal, to inquire about an employee’s diagnosis, prognosis, or any other medical details. Talking about job requirements and accommodations (if needed) does not violate confidentiality or HIPAA rules.

Q: What if the person with a disability needs time off, how will work get done if they need time away?

A: For all employees, it is best to manage by objectives. You should hold employees with disabilities to the same performance standards as any other employee. An accommodation might include time to attend a medical appointment or take care of other needs associated with managing their condition. Most companies have dealt with the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which applies to all employees not just those with disabilities. Consider how your company has handled productivity during FMLA absences.

Q: If a person who is blind or has low vision needs materials in alternate format, how will we meet these needs?

A: There are equipment solutions and tools that can either magnify materials or read what is on a computer screen in real time. The Inclusion Works team and or JAN can work with your company to introduce you to these solutions so they are readily available to employees who need them on a just-in-time basis.

Q: If a person who is deaf or hard of hearing needs access to information quickly, how will we meet these needs?

A: Similar to individuals with visual impairments, there are just-in-time solutions including technology tools, closed captioning and real time captioning services that your company can access on short notice. The Inclusion Works team can help to identify these resources.

Q: What if I just feel uncomfortable being around people with disabilities and am reluctant to have people in this population on my team?

A: It is natural to feel uncomfortable with someone or something with which you have had limited or no experience. Over the years, managers have needed to work through feelings of discomfort about including women, individuals from other races and national origins, and people whose primary language is not English, on their teams. While the feelings are natural, the expectation of your company is that every manager will welcome and fully include all employees, including individuals with a disability. You are encouraged to avail yourself of the information and resources your company is making available. The materials will help build your confidence and competence as a manager who is ready to welcome and tap into talent from all dimensions of diversity.

Prepared by the Disability:IN Inclusion Works Team.