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Posted 19 Feb 2021

How To Recruit Disabled Talent: Making It Safe To Disclose

As a disabled person the question of whether or not to disclose your condition to an employer, if at all, can be a tricky one. For neurominorities our conditions are generally less visible and so in theory can be concealed long term in order to protect from stigma and discrimination. The problem with masking such conditions however is that it leads to heightened anxiety and pressure, as well as preventing a person from getting the workplace accommodations and adjustments they may need to work at their best.

Today I wanted to dig into some of the problems that still exist around this subject even within disability confident businesses. I also want to look at how employers can address these problems in order to ensure they are not missing out on this talent pool.

Inclusion Starts At The Recruitment Stage

Possibly the single most difficult decision for a neurominority to make when looking for a job is whether or not to disclose their condition at application and interview stage. Whilst we all know that disability is a protected category when it comes to employment discrimination, it is incredibly hard to prove you have been discriminated against simply because you were turned down for a job. Since at this point in the process a candidate knows very little about the people they will be working with it feels like a huge risk to make oneself vulnerable at such an early stage, however not disclosing can make it much harder to bring up later. As a result of this conundrum many people struggle in jobs, without disability adjustments that would make their life easier, not knowing how to bring it up as it may be perceived as some kind of a deception.

One great way to send a message to disabled candidates that you welcome their application is to become a disability confident employer, but this cannot simply be a tick box exercise. Beyond signing up a business needs to implement inclusive policies, take a firm line on ableism amongst employees, and let it be known to people at recruitment stage that you walk the walk when it comes to your disability confident status. One way to do this is to offer accommodations at interviews and demonstrate your knowledge and ability to facilitate this should someone take you up on that offer. In my company, we give examples of accommodations we have offered before, to show that we are sincere.

Demonstrate Your Inclusion Competence

Recently I heard a story about a candidate who had been offered an adjustment at an interview for their neurodiverse condition but the adjustment given was not relevant and did not help. For example, simply allowing extra time to complete a proficiency test will not be helpful to someone dealing with sensory overwhelm in the noisy, brightly lit space you have provided. Similarly providing a quiet space with natural light will not be of help to someone who cannot read the text because of the font and background color your company has used.

What would work better than a blanket approach would be to offer options and also invite conversation if the options you’ve provided don’t meet an applicant’s need. If this process is very new to you then bringing in a neurodiversity specialist to consult is a good idea, because you cannot and expect the candidate themselves to anticipate every adjustment they may need. By offering this support to all candidates and delivering competently you can send a clear signal that you are authentically inclusive rather than trying to tick the diversity box.

Addressing Bias

Beyond practical support it is also important to think about how you respond when someone does choose to be open with you. They may decide to take the plunge and let you know about their condition, in fact these days many of us feel more confident to pitch our neurodiversity as an asset but how you react can still send the wrong message. When trying to decide if your business is a good fit, ableist microaggressions can be a red flag to a disabled candidate. Comments like “you don’t look Autistic” or “I can’t believe you are dyslexic your application was so good” may be well intentioned but the subtle implications of such statements suggest that you think of these conditions negatively. Someone once told me I was brave to say I was ADHD, I immediately felt belittled, they had revealed their negative assumptions about ADHD not given me a compliment. It is also not helpful to compare applicants to other people you may know with the same condition. These things may seem minor or trivial to some but keep in mind that disabled people are fine tuned to notice when they are being othered or belittled and will not be keen to take a risk on a workplace if this has been their first impression.

Educating your team on these types of unconscious bias will help them to understand what is and is not appropriate to say. But beyond awareness training it is important to foster an open atmosphere where a disabled employee can offer correction without fear of professional fallout.

Ultimately if we want people to feel safe to disclose, we have to take responsibility for creating an authentically inclusive environment. Our desire to include neurominorities must be evident and demonstrated from day one, and we must remain consistent over time. No one owes you their diagnosis if it is going to affect their chances, it is on employers to create a safe space and then watch their team flourish. You’ll know you’re getting it right when people feel safe to disclose their condition at work.

Read more of Nancy’s Forbes articles here.

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