Job Hunting while Disabled

PwDs are 18 % of the population and 9.5 % of the workforce. Here’s how not to illegally jerk them around during the recruiting process.

Four individuals in a warehouse setting wearing brightly colored safety vests, one of them a woman in a wheelchair
Photo by Elevate on Unsplash

Back story

People with disabilities have always been on the outer fringe of employment.

  • Due to lower rates of post-secondary education, PwDs are more likely to be in blue-collar jobs like retail, the category which COVID has hit the hardest.

Step 1: Organizational research

Researching a company is often the first step in a job application process. It’s how people figure out that this is a company they want to work for, and also help people craft their cover letters. To provide equal access:

  • The organizational website should be accessible.
  • There should not be any ableist requirements in the job descriptions — no statements about needing to be able to use a keyboard and a mouse simultaneously, no requirements for being able to lift 20 lbs, or stand for 4 hours for programmers. Those fake requirements are code for “no people with disabilities need apply.” If the task is absolutely essential to job success, sure, leave it in. If it’s not crucial, it’s ableist and illegal. If it’s not crucial and it stays in, your organization is likely to be on the wrong end of an EEOC complaint someday.

Step 2: The application

Applying, which is the next phase of the job application process, is where accessibility blockers frequently pop up.

  • Looking for a job is exhausting. Looking for a job when you have a disability is ridiculously exhausting. Does your job application software do things like save resumes for future applications and allow you to apply with a LinkedIn profile? Great, you have a curb cut — good for people without disabilities, great for people with disabilities. I have one friend who refuses to apply for any job via WorkDay because the UI is so terrible that it takes too much time to submit a single application.
  • Any tests or evaluations used by the organization must be accessible — did you hear that one, Hacker Rank? If they are not accessible, you had better have an accommodations or alternative assessment process that does not discriminate against the applicant. Under NO circumstances do you dismiss the applicant or tell them that the job has already been filled. That is the prime example of how to end up in front of the EEOC.

Step 3: The interviews

  • The interviews must be either physically or digitally accessible. That includes providing captioning or interpreters if requested.
  • To successfully conduct unbiased interviews, the interviewers must receive training on unconscious bias and interviewing people with disabilities. You don’t always get firm handshakes and eye contact when you are interviewing people with disabilities. That doesn’t mean they can’t do the job.
  • The candidate should be able to EASILY and PAINLESSLY request an interview/job accommodation at any time in the process without FEAR OF RETRIBUTION.
  • There should be multiple channels using different modalities (i.e., both keyboard-driven such as chat/email + voice) to reach out to TA or HR. And here’s an idea — actually return the messages? There is nothing like a full voicemail folder to tell a candidate that they will never feel like they are valued or belong, even if they get the job.

Step 4: The Offer

The offer stage seems to feel like death by 1000 PDF files sometimes.

  • If third-party vendors are doing background checks, their processes need to be accessible too. Don’t give a blind employee a choice between finding a copy of a paper paycheck stub (I’m largely sighted, I don’t know that I could do it), giving someone their SSN to try and get it through an inaccessible paycheck portal, or producing their entire tax return. That is NOT acceptable.
  • Benefits, 401K plan enrollment, health insurance, I-9 — it ALL has to be accessible.

Step 5: The Onboarding

If you have not onboarded someone with a particular type of disability before, take a very critical eye and walk through your onboarding process step by step. Here is an example of why that is so important.

  1. If you have a software catalog, what is your process for allowing the installation of “unapproved” software like JAWS, NVDA, color analysis and magnification tools?
  2. Are all videos captioned and audio described?
  3. Do you have a buddy system where the new employee can reach out for help to someone OUTSIDE their organization? It is really important for people with disabilities to get exposure to other individuals outside their team?
  4. Is your training WCAG 2.0 Level AA compliant?
  5. Are your internal communications compliant? Or do they lead to inaccessible PDFs and web pages?

Blogger, disability advocate, nerd. Bringing the fire on ableism. A11y Architect @ VMware. Wheelchair user w/ a deaf daughter. CS, Law, and Business background

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