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Promising Directions

From an Employer’s View, Hiring Jobseekers with Disabilities

April 3, 2018
Source: Atlanta Business Chronicle

“Throughout the job market…”

“In today’s job market...”

“Currently trending in the job market…”

Year after year, we read articles referring to “today’s job market.” And yes, many of these pieces are informative, for over the years and at a continuously faster pace, many facets of our job market have changed, from the tools we use, to the speed of the decision-making loop, the increased diversity of fellow coworkers, to being asked to still perform your job while on vacation with family or friends (Thanks, technology). Yet one thing that has not changed is the anxiety that comes with the job interview process, not just for the candidate, but the hiring manager too. As any employer will tell you, poor hires can be costly and can have repercussions for months if not years to come. How do you read between the lines of the résumé to know if an individual is truly the right match?

Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency (GVRA) assists people with all kinds of disabilities in finding employment. Our role in workforce development is to cultivate a climate in which our clients are seen as the assets they truly are. While disability advocacy – and with it, the American workplace-- have come a long way since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act [ADA] in 1990, the numbers tell a story that is likely rooted in misconceptions about people with disabilities. In 2016, the U.S. Department of Labor stated that only 27.7 percent of individuals with disabilities between 16 and 64 who considered themselves “in the job market” were employed, as compared to 76.4 percent of their peers. I know one individual — an incredibly effective Human Resources professional — who says she interviewed for more than 200 jobs before an offer came her way. Even though a former executive with the company where she now works says she is, hands down, the best HR [human resources] person he ever worked with, she attributes hesitation over her mobility and speech disabilities to the lack of initial bites from employers.

As an employer, you don’t want to miss out on the best (fill in the blank) you’ve ever worked with, but you still have to cover all the bases. Some major areas are covered by the ADA – for example, asking someone if they have a disability is off limits — but there is a gray area. Here are some guides to help you, the hiring manager, navigate the interview effectively and recruit a diverse workforce.

Don’t make assumptions. Everyone does things in life differently, whether it’s making the bed, baking a cake, or performing a work task. You may wonder how you would do your job without your sight, hearing, or the ability to walk. Yet, your job candidate has already developed their own approach. When recruiting a person with a disability, you are also recruiting a problem solver who has tackled barriers successfully and come out on the other side.

Ask the individual. The Census tells us nearly one in five people have disabilities, and many of those conditions are invisible. But sometimes, the disability is obvious, like the need to use a wheelchair. While it’s still illegal to ask the person if they have a disability (no matter how apparent), you can ask if they will be able to perform all the essential functions of the job with or without accommodations. After all, your end game is to hire someone who can do the work.

Take the opportunity to check accessibility. The ADA says a lot about how people should be able to access public buildings. While the law is technical in places, accessibility doesn’t have to be hard or costly. When working with someone with a physical disability, creating an accessible room may be as simple as ensuring there are no obstacles in the aisle. If you are courting your candidate with a lunch offsite, take a few seconds to check the restaurant’s website to be sure there are no embarrassing problems getting in when you show up. These small steps are no reason to be nervous, and they won’t cost you anything either.

Relax. Remember, you and your candidate are both human and you’re both professional adults. In my experience, disabilities often become invisible to coworkers and friends very quickly. One of my coworkers is a stellar certified rehabilitation counselor. She holds a graduate degree, has spent 16 years on our team handling a caseload and is also a wife and mom. This colleague also happens to be blind, and she says her coworkers will occasionally bring her a document and ask that she “take a look at this.” She doesn’t take offense, she says, because she knows her colleagues just see Peggy, not a woman who is blind.

With the high prevalence and wide spectrum of disabilities, you’ve probably already encountered someone who is disabled at your workplace, and you may not have even noticed it. Casting aside your preconceived notions about difference may just lead to your next top performer.

Learn more about careers for Georgians with disabilities at

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