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7 Tips for Successfully Hiring Talent with Developmental Disabilities

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Although they may be eager to hold down rewarding jobs, many working-age Americans with developmental disabilities are unemployed or underemployed.

In fact, people with developmental disabilities are “vastly underrepresented” in the American workforce, said Sequaya Tasker, senior executive officer at The Arc, an advocacy group for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“Every day, they contend with inaccessibility, stigmas, biases and outright discrimination,” Tasker said. “But research shows that companies that employ people with disabilities outperform those that don’t, so it’s important for inclusion and also your bottom line.”

What Are Developmental Disabilities?

Before we dive into tips for hiring people with developmental disabilities, it’s important to clarify what developmental disabilities are.

Developmental disabilities are a cluster of conditions—potentially lasting a lifetime—that result from physical, learning, language and behavior impairment. Examples include:

  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
  • Autism spectrum disorders.
  • Cerebral palsy.
  • Hearing loss.
  • Learning or intellectual disabilities.
  • Vision impairment.

7 Tips for Hiring People with Developmental Disabilities

Here, experts provide seven recommendations for hiring employees with developmental disabilities.

1. Don’t ask if a candidate has a developmental disability.

Devin Tomb, vice president of The Muse, a job search, career advice and talent acquisition platform, warns that an employer should never ask whether a job candidate has a developmental disability. As a matter of fact, it’s illegal under the Americans with Disabilities Act to inquire about a candidate’s disability status.

“My best advice is to interview them like you would any other candidate,” Tomb said, “and do your best to get to know their strengths and areas for improvement as well as an understanding of the impact they’ve had on other organizations.”

2. Ditch old-school thinking.

Angela Stanfill, vice president of business development and communications at Goodwill Industries of the Valleys in Virginia, said employers seeking to recruit employees with developmental disabilities must move beyond their own biases and expectations. Instead, employers should focus on abilities and assets that bring value to their organizations.

“Hiring employees with disabilities is beneficial to the entire organization,” Stanfill said. “Our employees with disabilities have a significantly lower turnover rate than any other employee demographic and show higher company loyalty.”

3. Don’t treat them differently.

If you suspect a job candidate has a developmental disability, treat them as you would any other job candidate, Stanfill advised.

“Many people feel like they need to speak in a higher voice or embellish what the job is,” she said. “This isn’t necessary and can discourage a potential employee.”

4. Brush up on interviewing protocols.

You may need to tweak your interviewing tactics in order to embrace job candidates with developmental disabilities. Angela Nelson, vice president of operations and executive director of clinical services at RethinkCare, offers these recommendations for interviewing a job candidate who you believe has a developmental disability:

  • Send interview agendas and questions in advance.
  • Find out whether a candidate might need special accommodations during the interview.
  • Consider limiting eye contact with a job candidate who is or may be neurodivergent. Eye contact might make some candidates uncomfortable.
  • Stay away from vague or open-ended questions or statements (such as “Tell me about yourself”). Stick to concrete inquiries or comments related to topics such as skills and previous jobs.

5. Shore up best practices.

Employers should ensure diverse perspectives are incorporated into their hiring and retention practices, said HR strategist Ovell Barbee.

“We are no longer in a period where a one-size-fits-all approach is acceptable for HR practices,” Barbee said. “I would suggest that companies examine each touch point with candidates to ensure that as individuals disclose disabilities, they have processes in place to review accommodation requests, and that the leaders are equipped and prepared to manage those with disabilities.

6. Form community alliances.

To help bring aboard employees with developmental disabilities, employers should be proactive about establishing community partnerships with organizations and schools that serve people with developmental disabilities.

“These partnerships can contribute to enhancing an employer brand,” Barbee said, “and build trust among employees who will subsequently be hired as a result.”

7. Accommodate their needs.

Once a person with a developmental disability has joined your workforce, it’s important for them to feel welcomed.

For instance, said Trevor Bogan, regional director for the Americas at the Top Employer Institute, if you’re adding a neurodivergent employee to your workforce, they should be given the right atmosphere and tools so they’re able to thrive. Examples include:

  • Equip office space with neurodivergent-friendly lighting.
  • Offer flexibility for remote work.
  • Supply noise-canceling headphones.
  • Provide speech-to-text or text-to-text software.
  • Create an employee resource group for neurodivergent people.

Neurodivergent refers to people whose brains work differently, such as individuals with autism, ADHD and dyslexia.


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