The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) safeguards people with disabilities from discrimination in the hiring process. Despite these protections, though, many job descriptions still include language that discourages qualified applicants from applying because of their disabilities.
Looking beyond legal requirements, diversity and inclusion have also become professional buzzwords within many fields.
However, people with disabilities have unemployment rates twice that of the national average. Successfully recruiting and retaining the best talent for your company hinges on having a diverse applicant pool, which is why it’s so important to ensure that you don’t accidentally exclude potential employees with disabilities.
To boost your workforce, foster an inclusive workplace and remain compliant with the law, start with your job descriptions.
Writing Inclusive Job Descriptions
Many job descriptions use language under “essential job functions” that aims to discriminate against disabled applicants, whether intentionally or not. For instance, some role descriptions for office jobs have specified that applicants be able to lift at least 25 pounds and type a certain number of words per minute. As you write a job description, consider how often someone with a desk job really needs to lift 25 pounds. It’s doubtful that this requirement is essential to their job function. Typing speed may seem essential, but with voice dictation software, the physical ability to type may not be as necessary as you might think, either.
Start your job description by outlining the role this position plays within the company. What are the larger goals expected of the role? Then list the essential functions, such as completing reports, answering service calls, performing sales calls or developing promotional materials. Consider what duties the position truly exists to fulfill, and distinguish them from the nonessential functions.
Then, make sure people with disabilities can apply to the position. If it’s cost-prohibitive to provide an online application system on your career page that’s accessible, include a direct email or phone number as an alternate route for people with disabilities to contact you about the position.
Now is also the time to plan for reasonable accommodations for the position so that you’re better prepared to interview a range of applicants. When interviewing candidates with disabilities, the ADA does not allow employers to ask about the nature of someone’s disability, nor can you require that they undergo a medical exam as a hiring condition.
Creating an Inclusive Workplace
People with disabilities are a large — and largely overlooked — talent pool that can greatly enhance your business. You may be surprised at how a small accommodation, such as large-print materials, picture-based guides or voice dictation software, can make a world of difference in someone’s ability to do their job. Try these steps to improve accessibility in the workplace:
Outline a clear request process for accommodations. You may not know exactly what your employees with disabilities need, but be willing to have an open discussion and process for them to request reasonable accommodations.
Offer flexible work schedules. Telecommuting and video conferencing options are no-cost ways not only to accommodate employees with disabilities but also to make scheduling easier for any employee who has difficulty traveling often, such as busy caretakers of children or aging parents.
Match skills to the right job. Disabilities can be visible or invisible. Sometimes employees may need physical accommodations. Other times, they may request slower tasks or shorter shifts. Matching the right employees with the right tasks will promote productivity for your employee and your company.
Provide accessible technology. Many computers and phones now come with software for accommodations such as voice dictation. Work with your IT department or a tech consultant to ensure that the technology around your office is accessible, and do some tutorials with your staff so everyone knows how to use the accessibility features.
With only 35.5% of people with disabilities employed, compared to 76.5% of people without disabilities, you potentially have a wealth of available, motivated people who want to work for you. Ensuring that your company culture is open to people with disabilities — starting with the recruitment process — will help you develop a stronger, more diverse workforce.
Stay up to date on the latest health care regulations and trends for your small business: Subscribe to our monthly newsletter.