October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, and there’s never been a better time for employers to consider hiring people with disabilities.

In today’s landscape of frontline labor shortages and the ongoing movement for diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace, individuals with disabilities represent a vast pool of untapped talent.

Proven Business Benefits

The business benefits of workforces that include people with disabilities are proven, if not well known. A landmark Accenture study found that companies that actively include employees with disabilities achieve 28% higher revenue, double the net income and 30% greater profit margins than those that don’t.

Research published by the National Institutes of Health found that the economic benefits of hiring people with disabilities include higher profits due to lower employee turnover, increased employee reliability, higher productivity and greater customer loyalty and satisfaction.

Skilled, Reliable, Loyal Talent

More and more companies are finding skilled, reliable, loyal talent in the disability community. In the years since the pandemic, the employment-to-population ratio for working-aged people with disabilities has risen to record highs, reaching 37.9% in August, according to the monthly National Trends in Disability Employment (nTIDE) report published by the Kessler Foundation and the University of New Hampshire.

That’s good news, but we can do better.

Inexperience in recruiting and interviewing job candidates with disabilities is one obstacle to including this population in the workforce. Interviewing people with disabilities often requires a different approach than working with non-disabled candidates. It’s important to set aside preconceived notions and keep the focus on skills and abilities, not perceived limitations.

General Interviewing Tips for Candidates with Disabilities

Some general tips when it comes to working with candidates with disabilities include:

  • Remember that not all disabilities are visible.
  • Conduct interviews in a manner that emphasizes abilities, experience and individual qualities.
  • Treat candidates with disabilities as you would candidates without disabilities.
  • Focus on how the person can perform the job.
  • Avoid negative language. Don’t assume that a disability is a hardship or a burden.
  • Allow service animals to accompany the interviewee, but do not pet or otherwise distract the animal without permission.
  • Ask before giving assistance.

Interviewing Tips for Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing Candidates

When interviewing Deaf and hard-of-hearing candidates, if you have access to an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter, use that resource. If not, have writing materials, such as a whiteboard, on hand. Begin by asking the candidate how they would like to communicate—if they read lips, need an interpreter or prefer to receive written questions and/or answers. Other tips include:

  • If using an interpreter, speak to the candidate, not the interpreter.
  • If the candidate reads lips, then be sure to look directly at the candidate.
  • Do not raise your voice.

Interviewing Tips for Blind or Low-Vision Candidates

When interviewing people with vision disabilities, begin by introducing yourself with your name and title, and describe your appearance (pale skin, short brown hair, blue eyes, glasses, silver necklace, etc.) Describe the interview setting. For example, say, “There is a table in front of you and a seat to your right.” When offering seating, offer to place the person’s hand on the back or arm of the chair.  To initiate a handshake, say something like, “May I shake your hand?” Remember that blind and low-vision candidates cannot “read” body language or facial expressions. Finally, offer to assist in filling out forms.

Interviewing Tips for Candidates with Speech Disabilities

People who stutter or have other speech disabilities often just need a bit more time to form and express answers to questions. You can make the process easier if you ask the candidate if they would prefer to use writing materials such as a whiteboard to write responses to questions. Other tips include:

  • Phrase questions so that they can be answered with short responses.
  • Give your total attention to the person.
  • Do not complete candidates’ thoughts for them or suggest answers.
  • Do not pretend to understand if you are having difficulty doing so.
  • Speak with a normal tone of voice.

For Candidates with Mobility Disabilities

Keep in mind that some wheelchair users may choose to transfer from their wheelchair to a chair for the interview. Also, some wheelchair users consider a wheelchair to be part of their body space, so don’t lean against it or move it without permission. Sit down so you can be at eye level with the candidate and allow people with canes or crutches to keep them within easy reach.

Interviewing Tips for Neurodivergent Candidates

Neurodiversity is a broad category of people with developmental, mental health, and intellectual disabilities like Down Syndrome, autism, or PTSD. Communications skills can vary widely in this population, and it is important to remember that soft skills like small talk, eye contact and humor are not necessarily job qualifications. Be careful not to overlook highly skilled candidates based on false assumptions about social skills. Other tips include:

  • Offer a quiet interview area for individuals who may be highly sensitive to noise.
  • Keep in mind that communication is not the same for all individuals.
  • Eye contact can be difficult for neurodivergent individuals, so do not expect it. If the individual is not making eye contact, do not stare into their eyes or otherwise try to force them to look into yours.
  • Handshakes can be awkward and are often not extended or welcomed.
  • Do not assume reading capabilities.
  • Do not assume that they have read information about a position.
  • Do not complete candidates’ thoughts for them or suggest answers.
  • Use plain, literal language as much as possible. Metaphors and analogies like “elevator pitch” may not be familiar or understood.

Accommodations Not Costly

Employers often fear that hiring people with disabilities will be expensive and burdensome. This is rarely the case. Research conducted by the U.S. Department of Labor and the Job Accommodation Network reveals that nearly half of the workplace accommodations cost nothing, and the remaining accommodations incur a one-time cost of only $300. That’s a small price to pay for the proven benefits of long-term retention, reliability, punctuality and productivity, as well as high customer loyalty and satisfaction.

Darelyn Pazdel

Darelyn Pazdel is the Vice President of Workforce Inclusion at PRIDE Industries, the nation's leading employer of people with disabilities.