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Onboarding Employees with Disabilities

The Hiring Process

The use AI, or Artificial Intelligence is finding its way into the hiring, promotion, and other employment decision-making processes. For example, software that screens out applications using a pre-defined list of keywords or video-interviewing software that evaluates facial expressions and speech patterns. AI is supposed to help eliminate human biases in the hiring process. But many organizations are finding that it can actually, unintentionally, reinforce these biases, therefore creating an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) violation.

For example, 

  • A particular digital requirement tool may itself be challenging to use for someone with a disability - say an application that requires candidates to write a paragraph on why they want the position. An employer would need to have voice-recognition software or some other form of assistive technology available to visually impaired and/or mobility impaired candidates.
  • Technologies that require medical or disability-related information —are especially problematic.
  • Technologies that "predict" a prospect's performance by comparing them to current successful employees may "unintentionally exclude fully qualified candidates with disabilities (which also can happen with candidates from other protected classes if employers are not careful)."

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) released a list of best practices to help employers avoid ADA violations:

  1. Employment technology should: 
    1. clearly indicate that reasonable accommodations are available to people with disabilities
    2. provide clear instructions for requesting accommodations
    3. ensure that requesting a reasonable accommodation does not diminish the applicant’s opportunities
  2. The agency also suggests that, before the assessment, an employer should provide complete information about the hiring technology, including 
    1. which traits or characteristics the tool is designed to measure
    2. the methods of measurement 
    3. factors that may affect the assessment

This guidance is part of the rise in the global regulation of algorithms and AI. "The Federal Trade Commission is planning a rulemaking 'to curb lax security practices, limit privacy abuses, and ensure that algorithmic decision-making does not result in unlawful discrimination.' The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy is formulating an 'AI Bill of Rights.'"

Accessibility & Accommodations

"... sure, technically, employers are well within their right to wait for a worker to request reasonable accommodation under the ADA, but why not be accommodating from the start?" Kelly Hermann, VP of access, diversity, and inclusion for the University of Phoenix

More often than not, folks think of accommodations in terms of the built environment -  ramps for wheelchairs, motion sensors to open/close doors - that sort of thing. But the digital world is not without its barriers and need for accessibility.

For example, properly structured digital documents and web pages - proper use of headers, color contrast, descriptive link text, captions with videos, etc. - exponentially improves access by assistive technologies and accessibility for people with disabilities.

From Kelly Hermann’s perspective, the problem is that "American institutions, including employers, take cues from "the medical model" of disability…people hear that a colleague or peer has a disability and "immediately think something’s wrong with that person," she said. "When you approach it from the standpoint of 'that person has something wrong with them,' you have to fix it. When you do put the emphasis on 'fixing it,' it’s usually on the body and on the person — and not so much on the environment." The "social model" of disability states that disabilities are the result of physical and digital barriers as well as derogatory attitudes, and social exclusion (intentional or inadvertent).

Kelly Hermann reminds us that "Accessibility is a journey."

"You’re not going to get to a certain place and say, 'That's it. Everything’s accessible. I don’t have to worry about this anymore.' There’s always going to be some work to do," Hermann said.


Good onboarding starts with accessibility! Materials and resources that are written in plain language, that are clear and succinct, and that are created with accessibility in mind provide you with a more inclusive experience for all of your new hires. Here are a few tips for updating your onboarding process to create that better experience:

  • Create a virtual office tour
  • Ensure easy building access for guests and employees
  • Invest in multi-device onboarding software
  • Enable offline access and downloadable content
  • Share training materials in multiple formats
  • Test your training materials against assistive technology
  • Provide clear instructions to navigate the system
  • Pair new hires with a mentor
  • Request feedback from the hiring process

The Future of Work for People with Disabilities

No one can deny that the pandemic has changed the face of the working environment. It's more flexible, more people work remotely and it is much less traditional prior to 2020. Because of this shift, accessibility and being "accommodating from the start" is critical for employees with disabilities.

"It's time to unlock the hidden jobs buried in the purple sector – purple being the colour of disability." ~ What is the future of work for persons with disabilities

Some examples of mainstream, entrepreneurial, creative, purple sector jobs are:
  • quality analyst
  • digital marketer
  • service manager
  • full-stack developer
  • tech founder
  • grocery store owner
  • artist
  • accessibility tester
So how can employers help ensure these types of opportunities are made available to people with disabilities? Here are just a few ways:
  • Inclusive mainstream jobs
    Organizations that use end-to-end disability inclusion processes help provide equal opportunities for growth and promotion among their employees. Things inclusive job descriptions that state the functional aspects of the role enable employees with disabilities to identify barriers and then find solutions that help them compete with their peers. 
  • Leveling the talent selection playing field
    Recruiting and hiring people with disabilities requires "a 'selection mindset' rather than an 'elimination mindset.'" Companies can receive thousands of resumes from mainstream sources. The normal procedure is to eliminate candidates based on a list of eligibility criteria, such as education - a candidate may not meet the minimum requirement. "In the case of persons with disability, if the mindset is to eliminate a resume, the disability may seem like a negative point and hence get eliminated."
  • Adhering to accessibility standards
    When all the software used to complete required job functions and assignments is accessible, job opportunities are possible for people with disabilities. No software should be acquired until it meets the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1, AA, and this requirement should be must be integral in the procurement process.
"We need to create a space for them to succeed without having to say 'this is an employee with a disability', but rather saying 'this is an employee that we need to put supports around.' We need to be really clear, really understanding what are the barriers to success. And as an employer, we are responsible to remove those barriers."~ The Future of Work and Disability - A Remote Opportunity


Maggie Vaughan, CPACC
Content Marketing Practitioner