The business of inclusion

Perkins teams up with Harvard Extension School to launch online course promoting more inclusive hiring policies

A young man who is blind, wearing a suit and tie, sits at a table for a job interview.

A new online course provides strategies for finding and hiring candidates with disabilities.

Perspectives Issue:
Fall 2016

Tim Vernon is blind, but you wouldn’t know it from reading his résumé. Like many young professionals with a visual impairment, Vernon chooses not to share that information with potential employers until he lands an interview.

“I know from personal experience that sometimes disclosing a disability (right away) tends to be more problematic than successful,” he said.

A new online course created by Perkins School for the Blind and Harvard Extension School seeks to make it less difficult for qualified candidates like Vernon to reveal their disabilities – and get a job.

The course, called “Introduction to Inclusive Talent Acquisition” (INC1.1), is designed for hiring professionals in small, medium and large companies. It offers techniques and strategies for recruiting, interviewing and onboarding applicants with blindness or other disabilities.

“It’s an opportunity for them to rethink how their organization treats nontraditional candidates,” said Perkins Community Resource Manager Rachel Kerrigan, who helped create the course. “Do they have a strategy in place or is diversity just a buzzword?”

The course, which launched in September, is available for free on edX, the preeminent online educational platform utilized by top colleges and universities.

Launching a course on edX is “a really big deal,” said Karina Lin, an online course developer at Harvard Extension School who helped design the course. “It has the potential to reach millions of people.”

“Introduction to Inclusive Talent Acquisition” follows the natural trajectory of the hiring process – from recruitment to an employee’s first day on the job. Its four sessions cover topics like making it easier for applicants to disclose disabilities, setting up accessible office space and changing a company’s culture to be more inclusive.

Material is delivered in a variety of formats, from videos and reading materials to interactive hiring exercises. The course also includes discussion boards where participants can exchange ideas with classmates.

“A big goal for our team was to make sure this course was interesting – that you don’t doubt that this is something you really need to know,” said Lin. “I think we achieved that.”

The course also includes videos of Vernon and other young professionals with visual impairment, who share their experiences with the employment process. Some stories are positive, while others illustrate the misconceptions and biases that applicants with disabilities commonly experience.

“We really wanted to show the person behind it,” said Kerrigan. “It’s their perspective that will help build understanding.”

By the end of the course, Kerrigan said participants will have learned concrete tips and strategies to improve their organization’s hiring process, and gained an understanding that “diversity” includes people with blindness and other disabilities.

“We want participants to be able to envision people of different abilities in their own workplace,” she said. “This course won’t solve the employment problem in 24 hours – but it has the potential to make a difference.”

Learn more and sign up for the course at www.perkins.org/edx.