Interviewing Strategies for Use with Applicants Who Have Disabilities
The Right Way to Gauge an Applicant’s Suitability
Interviewing is an art. The interview is a stressful time for all parties. Some of the traditional barometers we rely on in evaluating applicants – subtle cues such as body language, communication style, and social skills – are not always reliable when dealing with people who have disabilities. A firm handshake and upright posture can indicate confidence and respect, but don’t make false assumptions based on a person’s inability to communicate with his or her body in the expected manner.
You can become aware of a person’s disability during an interview in one of three ways: (1) It is readily apparent; (2) the person voluntarily brings it to your attention; (3)or you ask a question about the person’s ability to perform a function of the job that raises the issue of the need for an accommodation.
The key legal concept for job interviews under the ADA is that questions not be asked that focus on a person’s disability. Always focus on the ability of the person to do the job. Questions should be for the purpose of obtaining specific information that will help determine whether the person will be a productive faculty member. If an applicant says that he or she cannot perform an essential job function even with an accommodation, the applicant is not qualified for the job.
If the disability is evident or the person has brought it to your attention, you may ask how the person would perform the job, with or without reasonable accommodation.
If an applicant is blind, you could say, “The safety standards of this job require that the employee be aware of the chemicals that they are working with in the lab. How would you be aware of which chemicals you are handling? How might we accommodate you in that activity?”
The ADA categorically prohibits “fishing” for information about a candidate’s physical or mental condition on an application form or during an interview. You may inquire only about the person’s ability to perform specific job-related functions. For this reason, you must know the posted requirements of the position and the “essential” functions of that position.
Ø It is a violation to ask, “Have you had to miss a lot of class days because of illness?” or “Do you expect to need a lot of time off from work because of a physical or mental condition?” You may, however, explain the attendance expectations or the unique requirements for teaching and ask if the applicant can adhere to these standards.
Ø In interviewing a candidate who appears to have a disability, you may not ask, “How did you lose your arm?” You may, however, explain the position/teaching requirements and ask the person to explain how he or she would use the computer, tools or equipment to perform the position’s requirements.
What You Can’t Ask
Asking an applicant the following kinds of questions would be a violation of the ADA:
- How many times were you absent from your job because of illness?
- Are you taking any medications?
- Have you had a major illness in the last five years?
- Do you have any physical defects that preclude your performing certain tasks?
- Do you have any disabilities that would affect your performance in the position for which you are applying?
- Is there any health-related issue that would prevent you from doing the general type of work for which you are applying?
- Have you ever been treated for any severe conditions or diseases?
- List any conditions or diseases for which you have been treated in the past three years.
- Has anyone in your family ever had any severe or terminal illness?
- Have you ever been hospitalized? For what?
- Have you ever been treated for a mental disorder?
- Have you ever been treated for drug addiction or alcoholism?
- Have you ever filed for worker’s compensation benefits?
Applicants Who Are Deaf or Have a Hearing Impairment
When communicating with applicants who have a hearing impairment:
- Face a person who reads lips. Speak slowly and distinctly. Avoid using gestures near the face, since this is distracting. A beard or mustache may interfere with a lip-reader’s ability to see the movement of your lips.
- A sign language interpreter should be positioned properly. He or she should sit next to you so that the hearing-impaired person can easily shift his gaze back and forth from the interpreter to you.
- If a sign language interpreter is needed for an interview, please contact the Office for Students with Disabilities at 223-6151.
- Do not refer to a deaf person as deaf and dumb; many deaf persons have the ability to speak.
- It is appropriate to tap the hearing-impaired person on the shoulder or wave your hand to establish visual contact.
Applicants Who Have a Vision Impairment
When communicating with individuals who have a vision impairment:
- It is not necessary to speak louder. Also, you should not stop talking when a blind person is approaching you since he or she relies on the sound of your voice for direction.
- When a blind person enters your office, it may be helpful to extend your arm to guide him or her to a chair.
- If there are other individuals in your office, a blind person may not be aware of this. Therefore, introduce each person by name and indicate where they are sitting in the room relative to where the blind person is seated.
Applicants Who Have a Mobility Impairment
When communicating with an individual who has a mobility impairment:
- Do not presume that he or she needs assistance. An individual in a wheelchair will not normally require your help to enter a room.
- Provide assistance if you are asked to do so.
- Be prepared to tell the applicant the location of wheelchair ramps, accessible restrooms, etc.
Applicants Who Have a Speech Impairment
When interviewing a person who has a speech impairment:
- If you cannot understand the person’s response, ask him or her to repeat it.
- You may lose valuable information if you do not follow-up on answers that are confusing or that don’t make sense to you.
- Relax while listening. Your ear will adjust more quickly to the sound of the applicant’s speech.
Employers may not inform employees, students or others of accommodations that are made for a disabled applicant or employee. The ADA’s confidentiality requirement concerning an individual’s medical condition allows only three exceptions under which others may be told of a disability:
- Supervisors and managers who need to know in order to make accommodations
- First aid and safety personnel
- Government officials investigating compliance with the ADA