Taking a pro-active approach to recruiting disabled people
By taking simple steps to prevent discrimination and removing unnecessary barriers in the recruitment process, employers can ensure that the best person for the job is always recruited and disabled people and people with long term conditions are able to compete for available jobs. Employers have told us that introducing fair recruitment practices doesn’t just benefit disabled people – the organisation becomes a better place to work for everyone.
The job description should always reflect the requirements of the job accurately and should always be in clear language.
It is good practice to regularly review job descriptions and not only prior to recruitment. This can help to distinguish between the main activities of the job and marginal activities that may not be essential parts of the role. This will enable you to consider reasonable adjustments, as it will be easy to see if tasks could be transferred to another member of staff or if they are fundamental to the role
When outlining the essential skills, experience and other attributes necessary to carry out the job, it is important to scrutinise all of the criteria carefully. Care should be taken to avoid including any unnecessary requirements that may lead to discrimination.
It is important to ensure that any personal, medical or health-related criteria are absolutely necessary for the performance of the job.
The essential characteristics/minimum criteria should not include qualifications and experiences that are not necessary to the job.
Adverts must not make discriminatory statements in relation to disabled people and not use language that could imply that disabled applicants are unwelcome. It is best to avoid unnecessary wording regarding mobility or character such as: strong, agile, prepared to work long hours.
Employers should consider advertising in publications and websites aimed at disabled people or notifying local disability organisations of vacancies. SUSE members can assist with this. You also take steps to ensure that adverts posted online are accessible, for example by carrying out some user testing.
The application form should encourage applicants to declare a disability and explain the employer’s commitment to a positive approach towards equality of opportunity in employment.
Application forms should:
- Ask whether the applicant believes that they will need the employer to make a reasonable adjustment in the selection process, or in the job itself, and what this adjustment might be.
- Ensure that the form is easy to follow and read, avoids very small print and has adequate space for replies – this will help all applicants, not just those with disabilities.
- Ideally, and where practicable, the form should be available in different formats. This may include audio, Braille, large print and electronic. Applicants should be able to submit the form in a format of their choosing.
If requesting applicants to fill in application forms online, make sure you consider digital barriers to recruitment. There is more information on this below.
It is good practice, to invite all disabled candidates who meet the essential criteria for the post to interview. Where it is not clear if a disability might have an effect on an individual’s ability to complete the essential activities of the job, negative assumptions should not be made, and the applicant should be given the opportunity to evidence their skills and explore what reasonable adjustments might remove any barriers.
Employers should take into account gaps in education or employment history that relate to a disability when shortlisting and, if necessary, make a reasonable adjustment to any essential educational or experience criteria for the job so that a disabled person with lesser qualifications or experience is considered for interview.
Reference request letters for all candidates should only ask for information relevant to the job, based on the person specification (i.e. extent of skills, aptitudes and experience). No isolated reference to a disability should be made.
An employer should ask whether a job applicant needs any ‘reasonable adjustments’ or ‘access requirements’, for any part of the recruitment process. But, employers cannot ask an applicant if they are disabled.
- If a candidate has indicated a disability in their application, or the employer becomes aware of it, or the candidate asks for ‘reasonable adjustments’, the employer must consider and make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to the recruitment process. For example, holding the interview in a location that is accessible.
- Before offering a job, an employer must only ask a disabled applicant what ‘reasonable adjustments’ are needed for the recruitment process and, once those are in place, whether they are suitable, and to determine whether the applicant could carry out a function essential to role with the ‘reasonable adjustments’ in place.
- Otherwise, only after offering the job, should an employer ask the successful applicant what adjustments they will need to do the job and progress at work.
Forward thinking employers can take a pro-active approach to creating opportunities for disabled people and people with long term conditions to achieve a more diverse workforce. This involves identifying parts of a job or particular tasks that can be completed by a disabled jobseeker, usually in partnership with a supported employment agency.
It can take imagination and creativity on the part of both the employer and the employment worker, but it can lead to a win-win situation for both the business and the prospective employee.
- Job carving – the tasks of the job are taken from the job descriptions of a variety of existing roles in the company. In that way, a new job is created that fits the abilities and strengths of the supported employee. The other employees in the company have more time to do the tasks which they are qualified for or better suited to do.
- Job stripping – some tasks the employee would find too difficult are taken away from the regular job description, for example reading or carrying heavy items. In exchange, the person might take over other tasks from their co-workers.
- Job enrichment – new tasks are added to the job description which suit the abilities of the employee or to foster inclusion in the company. For example, in a job with little contact with co-workers during the day, the task of collecting mail in the company is added to allow the person to have more interaction with co-workers.
Digital barriers to recruitment
Recruitment today is often digital, with increasing numbers of employers posting vacancies on their websites and advertising through online job search websites. Many employers only accept applications which have been submitted online.
This has created a scenario where disabled jobseekers face not just attitudinal barriers, but digital barriers as well. A significant portion of employer sites, recruitment boards and online tools are not fully accessible to disabled people. This raises serious questions about diverse recruitment practices and discrimination.
Web accessibility problems for disabled jobseekers include:
- Navigation issues
- Poor colour contrast
- Graphics without alternative text descriptions
- Job applications that could only be completed using a mouse
Employers tend to underestimate the need for accessible online job applications. It is also necessary to offer alternatives. For many disabled people this application method may be a direct barrier to submitting an application and may be discriminatory. An easy way to overcome this is to submit the online application to user testing by people with disabilities and act on the feedback. SUSE members can support with this.
Many employers think that accessibility is about compliance, not usability. But just because a technology is compliant does not necessarily mean it is intuitive and user-friendly. As well as user testing (as suggested above) you could ask applicants for feedback on their experience of using the online application.
Technical solutions for the most common accessibility issues already exist. It is a common myth that these solutions will be expensive and difficult to implement. SUSE members and disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) can offer advice and support with this. Many website developers are skilled at improving accessibility as they are increasingly asked for this when developing new sites.
Employers often fail to look at the big picture and do not consider accessibility challenges beyond the job application form itself, including processes related to job sourcing, pre-employment testing and digital interviews. At each stage it is important to ask – is this process absolutely necessary in the recruitment process and is there an alternative way we can do this (an adaptation) that will enable disabled people to compete on a level playing field?
Employers rarely tested their online job application software with actual users prior to launch. This is surprising as an organisation would routinely test a new product or process in almost every other circumstance. User testing is not expensive or difficult to do – there is a lot of advice and support available – and it’s an easy way improve the quality and diversity of applications you receive.
Knowing the technical requirements to make a website accessible can make online recruitment easier. We’ve provided some information below. In many larger organisations which have sophisticated IT processes these guidelines could be easy implemented.
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines
Many digital barriers could easily be remediated if website designers follow the universal standards for web accessibility (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), Instead, countless opportunities for richer talent are potentially lost when companies rely on inaccessible online recruitment tools.
WCAG is a step-by-step set of technical requirements explaining how you can make your website accessible a varied audience of disabled people. Following these guidelines will make content more accessible to a wider range of disabled people, including blindness and low vision, deafness and hearing loss, limited movement, speech disabilities, photosensitivity, and combinations of these, and some accommodation for learning disabilities and cognitive limitations.
More information here: