Managers are often at the forefront of change and, as leaders, can be the guiding force around disability inclusion. In part three of our employer toolkit, we provide information managers to need to know to help diversify their workforce and drive success among their team. Want to learn more? Read part one and part two of this series, too.
Disability inclusion in hiring and recruitment
Before diving in, take some time to assess how well you’re set up by looking at the criteria for the DEI 100, a great source of information and learning.
Posting job descriptions
Make sure your job postings are accessible, so that a candidate can search them. Job postings, whether they are on a company website or accessed through a third-party site, should meet WCAG 2.1 AA standards for accessibility. By the way, if your company website isn’t accessible, customers, suppliers, potential candidates, and others won’t be able to read it, so the solution is part of a larger effort to make the website accessible.
If your job description requires a driver’s license, be sure it’s actually needed for the job. Is a license needed for a delivery driver? Yes. Is it really needed for the job you are posting? A driver’s license is often listed in job descriptions that don’t actually require any driving and, therefore, precludes many people with disabilities from applying.
Understanding disclosure and accommodations
Some disabilities are visible, but most are not: think about things like anxiety, chronic fatigue syndrome or diabetes. People with non-visible disabilities, and people with certain visual impairments, may never disclose. However, most people with visible impairments will, at some point, disclose their disability. There is no right or wrong time for them to do this, and it is a personal decision.
You may not be aware of how technology empowers people with visual impairments to get their work done. There have been and continue to be great strides in access technology. For example, screen reading technology allows people who are B/VI to access websites, read and write emails, and complete typical computer-based duties. There are also many apps that can assist with things like reading print off a page and way-finding. Never assume that someone who is B/VI cannot complete a task, as assistive technology may be available. To ensure accessibility for everyone, it’s recommended that companies take the time to examine their current hardware and software and take the necessary steps to invest in technology that is compatible with access technology.
Employers should know that while someone may be visually impaired, that person is likely very capable of doing a job and may only need some very minor – and reasonable – accommodations to perform a job’s duties.
– Greg L.
During the interviewing process
Once a candidate has disclosed their disability, be sure to ask what tools and technology / equipment they might need in order to complete the tasks associated with the job they are interviewing for.
Be curious and ask questions that are job-relevant. You may be making assumptions without realizing it. For example, you may not be able to imagine how someone could perform a certain job task. Ask them to explain it rather than assume something can’t be done. Focus your interview questions on how the candidate might perform their duties using their preferred devices.
Take the time to understand if there are parts of the job that may be too complicated or inappropriate to perform due to visual impairment. If you and the candidate do identify such tasks, are there alternatives that could be implemented to reach the goals? You may consider job carving for parts of the job that might be too challenging for the candidate, and replacing those with other duties. Dividing roles with fellow colleagues could actually enhance workplace camaraderie.
Help other interviewers be prepared to conduct a fair and effective interview by sharing what you’ve learned here.
Consider any additional training you or your team might require before the new hire starts. For example, has the team had diversity and inclusion training?
Verify whether your timekeeping system is accessible before the new hire starts. When timekeeping software isn’t accessible, figure out alternative ways for the new hire to document and submit their time and schedule requests.
Ask the new hire if they would like to personally share their B/VI status with the group and if so, when and in what format (i.e., at a team meeting, person-by-person, etc.) or if they’d like for that information to be provided on their behalf, and ahead of the orientation.
Prior to the orientation, prep the facilitator(s) on how to be inclusive in their delivery and presentations. This can include getting materials to people in advance – a best practice for all.
Did you know text documents (as well as slides and spreadsheets) are easily read by people who are blind? But it is important to add alt text for photos or infographics. It’s easy to find “how to” guides online for whatever program you are using. Share this information with the team, and make it a company-wide practice.
Not all blind or visually impaired persons require the same assistance or general accommodations around the office. Ask the new hire how and if they would like to be offered assistance, regardless of whether they’ll be working in a virtual environment or onsite.
Employers should have a basic understanding of the adaptive tools that make a job fully accessible. They should also collaborate with the employee who is visually impaired to ensure the employee’s onboarding has felt smooth.
– Timothy V.
Setting up accommodations
According to the Department of Labor Statistics, the average cost of workplace accommodations is just $500 while nearly a quarter of accommodations cost nothing at all. Remember, people with disabilities have the right to request reasonable accommodations in the workplace.
Your new hire may disclose that they are affiliated with a service provider who could collaborate with your IT department to help set up their access technology in the workplace. When in doubt, just ask.
Many B/VI people may be connected with their state Vocational Rehabilitation office, in which case the state VR agency will help you navigate accommodations. Someone who is blind will need orientation to the work space, which the state agency will facilitate.
Be aware that Zoom fatigue is real for us all. Best practice is to allow for breaks for staff regularly.
Some people who are B/VI may experience greater eye strain and fatigue due to their eye conditions. In that case, they may request (and you should enable) more frequent breaks, especially for meetings lasting more than an hour.
Once the new hire has settled in
Technology empowers people who are blind or visually impaired to access information and succeed in the workplace. Many workplace softwares and applications are accessible to employees who are B/VI, meaning that these employees can use screen reader technology or screen magnification to complete tasks within those platforms. However, there are other websites, softwares and applications that are not accessible, meaning that they simply don’t work or don’t work well with access technology.
It’s important to evaluate the technology used at your company and find out just how accessible it is or is not. You may decide to make changes as needed to ensure accessibility and equity for everyone. Some platforms may have accessibility issues from the start, or they might start out working quite well with assistive technology, but then experience incompatibility issues after an upgrade. Encourage IT departments to thoroughly test potential new applications to be sure that they continue to be accessible down the road for the employee who is blind. Consider including the blind employee in the testing process.
Making accessible formats or accessible documents is important, which is why this guide encourages you to provide materials to be discussed at a meeting in advance via email. Ask your employees what formats work best.
Feedback and employee reviews should be conducted the same way they would be with any employee – there are no special type of conversations needed. Remember, it is a best practice to share written documents in advance.
Don’t be afraid to compliment or critique blind or visually impaired persons for their job performance as you would any other member of your team. Some people – including you! – may be hesitant to give honest and critical feedback to someone with a disability. This can actually undermine their ability to learn, grow, and improve their performance and build their career.
If your employee with visual impairment is performing poorly, it is important to address that issue and give them the opportunity to improve – again just as you would for anyone else on your team. If you have concerns that their performance issues are directly related to their visual impairment, engage the employee in a conversation about whether or not they might require additional accommodations to get the job done. If an employee raises concerns about certain aspects of the job being inaccessible, consider job carving where necessary and possible.
Support career opportunities for the good of both the person and your company/team by:
Ensuring access to professional development and leadership opportunities – because everyone needs additional training as they grow in their career! If an employee who is B/VI requires new technology skills (e.g., advanced Excel skills) or if the company is moving to a new software platform, be sure to use a skilled Access Technology Trainer to train them.
Providing recognition and positive exposure.
Sharing the learning and momentum!
Promotions, changing roles and terminations
When making considerations for promotions, think about the same things that were considered during the initial interview process.
There is no wrong way to terminate a blind or visually impaired person, as long as the reason is not discriminatory and there is sufficient cause. When in doubt, refer to the Americans with Disabilities Act and consult your HR department.
About this guide
Perkins developed this guide in cooperation with our supporters at Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation as a resource for employers and organizations committed to equity and inclusion in the workplace.
The best practices in this guide can easily be implemented by individual employees, teams, and managers at large and small organizations alike.