Applicant Disability and the Employment Interview

In general, research findings, regarding the impact of applicant disability on interview ratings are inconsistent. Some studies conclude disability has a positive impact on the applicant’s ratings while others report a negative impact or no impact. However, studies do suggest that what the applicant voluntarily reveals about his or her disability does influence the hire/no-hire decision. For example, applicants who disclose a non-obvious disability tend to receive more favorable responses. Yet here again, the use of student raters means that we have to be cautious about these findings. For example, students might give disabled applicants high ratings because unlike real interviewers, they will not face negative feedback from supervisors who are required to exert effort to provide the hired applicant with an accommodation.

A study by the Research and Evaluation Center at the National Center for Disability services provides some insight into what disabled people who use “assistive technology” at work expect and prefer from interviewers.

Researchers surveyed 40 disabled people from various occupations to arrive at their conclusions. The basic finding was that, from the disabled person’s point of view, interviewers tend to avoid directly addressing the disability addressing the disability, and therefore make decisions without getting all the facts. What the disabled people prefer is an open discussion, one would allow the employer to clarify his or her concerns and reach a knowledgeable conclusion. Among the questions disabled persons said they would like interviewers to ask were these:

* Is there any kind of setting or special equipment that will facilitate the interview process for you?
* Is there any specific technology that you currently use or have used in previous jobs that assists the way you work?
* Other than technology what other kind of support did you have in previous jobs? If none, is there anything that would benefit you?
* Provide an example of how you would use technology to carry out your job duties.
* Is there any technology that you don’t currently have that would be helpful in performing the duties of this position?
* In the past, did you experience any problems between your technology and the company’s information systems?
* Do you foresee your technology needs changing in the near future? Why and how?
* Discuss a barrier or obstacles, if any, that you have encountered in any of your previous jobs. How was that addressed?
* Do you anticipate any transportation or scheduling issues with the work schedule expected of this position?

The interviewer must limit his or her questions to whether the applicant has any physical or mental impairment that may interfere with his or her ability to perform the job’s essential tasks.

A case illustrates the usual approach. A private nonprofit civil rights advocacy group sent four university students two white, two black to an employment agency, supposedly in pursuit of a job. The testers were given backgrounds and training to make them appear almost indistinguishable from each other in terms of qualifications: However, the white applicants and black applicants were allegedly treated differently. For example, the white tester / applicants got interviews and job offers, while the black tester/applicants got neither interviews nor offers. Such unequal treatment appears to be widespread.

Employment discrimination like this is always abhorrent, but the use of “employment discrimination testers” makes nondiscriminatory interviewing even more important today. As defined by the EEOC, testers are “individuals who apply for employment which they do not intend to accept, for the sole purpose of uncovering unlawful discriminatory hiring practices. Although they’re not really seeking employment, testers have legal standing with the courts and with the EEOC.

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