People with disabilities are frequently overlooked as talented contributors in the workplace. That’s partly due to the discriminatory misconception that they’re less profitable employees — an unfortunate assumption that couldn’t be farther from the truth.
In one systematic review published in the Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation, researchers found numerous benefits associated with accessible hiring and recruiting practices. In addition to improved profits, businesses that hired workers with disabilities enjoyed improved customer loyalty and satisfaction, more inclusive work cultures, and lower turnover rates.
When you're hiring, your goal is to find the best talent and accessible hiring practices will help you meet that goal. To that end, your organization should take efforts to remove barriers that might prevent people from submitting applications or accepting an offer. Here are a few basic tips to keep in mind.
1. Think about your assumptions when announcing jobs
To create an inclusive work environment, you’ll need to provide a clear idea of whether positions are flexible and whether you’re ready to make accommodations. Pay close attention to job announcements and descriptions and avoid ingrained assumptions that might drive away talented applicants.
- If your position is remote-work friendly, make sure your announcement provides that information. Likewise, don’t advertise “remote positions” if they require a certain number of days in the office. Explicitly declare what is (and isn’t) needed.
- Consider your word choices when describing skills. Ask yourself whether they’re truly necessary for the job. Announcing a position for a programmer with “strong oral communication skills" might prevent a talented deaf programmer from applying — and if those skills weren’t actually necessary, you’ve missed out on an excellent candidate.
- Make sure your online resources use color thoughtfully. Avoid using font styles or color alone to convey information, and pay attention to text contrast ratios.
Work with your human resources department when writing job announcements and descriptions. For more tips, read the Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion (EARN)’s guide: Encouraging Applicants with Disabilities (PDF).
2. Provide accessible online applications and resources
Is your online application portal accessible? If you’re not sure, you’ll need to test it thoroughly. Here are a few considerations to keep in mind:
- Every interactive element must be fully navigable with a keyboard.
- Forms should include clear visual focus indicators.
- Users should receive warnings about time limits. Provide a mechanism to extend or disable session time-outs. Wherever possible, avoid using time limits.
- Wherever possible, use accessible user authentication processes.
- Check whether your job portal functions as intended when accessed with screen readers and other assistive technologies.
We recommend auditing your website for conformance with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) Level AA, the consensus standard for digital accessibility. If your application portal has known accessibility barriers, let users know and offer alternative methods for submitting applications.
However, you’ll still want to remediate known issues as quickly as you can — some applicants may perceive accessibility barriers as a sign of a non-inclusive workplace.
3. Promote your inclusive hiring practices — but don't pressure applicants to disclose their status
Within the application, it’s okay to ask people to voluntarily disclose whether they will need accommodations. However, asking about disability status before extending a conditional job offer is generally illegal. As a quick reminder, the Bureau of Internet Accessibility cannot provide legal advice, so consult your state’s hiring laws for specific guidance.
If you ask whether employees will require accommodations, be thoughtful: Make it clear that your organization prioritizes inclusion and that you’re willing to make reasonable changes. Don’t ask about the specific nature or severity of the applicant’s disabilities. Most importantly, let applicants know that the question is voluntary and will not have an impact on hiring decisions.
4. Think about accommodations early — not after hiring
While there’s no wrong time to start prioritizing accessibility and inclusion, emphasizing those concepts early will reduce the cost of accommodations and enhance their benefit.
Ask yourself: Would my business’s processes need to change if an employee had a hearing or vision disability? Are physical offices fully accessible for people with mobility-related conditions? What improvements could we make immediately, and which accommodations would require time to put in place?
By prioritizing accessibility when building processes, you can empower all employees — not just people with disabilities. For example, by providing transcripts for work meetings, you can accommodate employees with hearing disabilities, along with employees who need to find an action item from the meeting at a later point in time. Improving your office’s layout can accommodate a person who uses a wheelchair while also improving work life for an employee with a broken leg.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Job Accommodation Network (JAN), most employers report "zero" or "very low" costs associated with disabilities accommodations. If you’re prepared to adopt an accessible mindset — and communicate the importance of accessibility to your team — you can see enormous benefits.