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Recruiting and Retaining People with Disabilities

The White House announced Feb. 3, 2015, the release of a new resource guide for employers related to the employment of people with disabilities. The guide is a federal interagency effort full of tips on how to legally and proactively recruit, retain and promote workers with disabilities.

“We have heard time and time again that employers do not want to visit 10 government websites to access the information they need,” said U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) Commissioner Chai Feldblum. “This resource guide is an example of federal agencies coming together to respond to the needs of employers by creating a central repository of user-friendly information and resources.”

The EEOC enforces Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Recruiting People with Disabilities

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy outlined these practical strategies to ensure that a company’s recruitment efforts are successful:

  • Establish internal policies that prioritize hiring people with disabilities.
  • Ensure that hiring people with disabilities is part of the company’s overall hiring plan.
  • Conduct targeted outreach to attract qualified candidates with disabilities. Successful recruitment efforts can be built through collaboration with community-based partners such as nonprofit organizations, national and local disability organizations, and federally funded state and local employment programs that have connections to qualified candidates, the guide said. Examples include vocational rehabilitation facilities, employment networks, American Job Centers and Centers for Independent Living.
  • Develop community linkages. Community linkages are ongoing relationships that facilitate an employer’s ability to diversify its workforce.
  • Retain and review applications from people with disabilities for future openings.
  • Ensure that the company uses fully accessible online job applications and electronic and social media recruitment materials. Posting vacancies on job boards designed for people with disabilities, in disability-related publications and with disability organizations will increase the diversity of the applicant pool. Examples of national job boards for people with disabilities include the Workforce Recruitment Program and the Talent Acquisition Portal.

Internship programs designed specifically for people with disabilities are another effective and cost-efficient recruitment strategy, according to the guide. Employers with internship programs for people with disabilities were 4.5 times more likely to hire a person with a disability than businesses without such programs, according to research from Cornell University and the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

Interviewing Applicants with Disabilities

In general, the ADA does not allow an employer to ask any questions about disability or to conduct any medical examinations until after the employer makes a conditional job offer to the applicant. Although employers may not ask disability-related questions or require medical examinations at the pre-offer stage, they are allowed to evaluate whether an applicant is qualified for the job, including asking about:

  • An applicant’s ability to perform specific job functions or tasks.
  • An applicant’s qualifications and skills, such as education, work history, and required certifications and licenses.

Retaining Employees with Disabilities

Many existing employee programs, such as orientation and onboarding programs, career development programs, and mentoring programs, can be tweaked to increase retention rates of employees with disabilities.

Typical onboarding programs acclimate new employees to the workplace culture and educate them on relevant policies and procedures. An onboarding program tailored for new employees with disabilities would have the same objective, but it would include disability-specific information such as reasonable accommodation procedures and would make use of orientation materials in accessible formats.

According to research by SHRM, the long-term benefits of effective onboarding programs include improved employee retention rates and increased productivity.

Career development programs such as conferences, training, tuition assistance and rotational assignments are proven employee retention strategies. HR should ensure that all online professional development classes and materials and workplace events are fully accessible, as well as reserve a portion of employee training funds to provide disability-related accommodations for training opportunities, the EEOC advised.

Workplace mentoring programs and employee resource groups are additional tools businesses can use to help increase recruitment and retention, improve organizational culture, and provide guidance to employees and managers about disability issues, according to the agency.

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him @SHRMRoy​​


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