Interviewing Strategies for Use with Applicants Who Have Disabilities

The Right Way to Gauge an Applicant’s Suitability

signsInterviewing 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:

Applicants Who Are Deaf or Have a Hearing Impairment

When communicating with applicants who have a hearing impairment:

Applicants Who Have a Vision Impairment

When communicating with individuals who have a vision impairment:

Man in wheelchair
Applicants Who Have a Mobility Impairment

When communicating with an individual who has a mobility impairment:

Applicants Who Have a Speech Impairment

When interviewing a person who has a speech impairment:


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:

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