Prioritizing Inclusive Interview Questions: 5 Ways to Eliminate Disability Bias in the Interviewing Process

Two people communicate using sign language

While many organizations are looking to prioritize diversity, equity and inclusion, there is still a long way to go, especially when it comes to people with disabilities. Organizations that work to eliminate bias against persons with disabilities from the interview process are ahead of the curve.

Many employers are making moves to prioritize diversity, but inclusive interview questions, out-of-the-box candidate sourcing and aggressive diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) policies still have a long way to go — especially when it comes to people with disabilities, which affect as many as 1 in 4 adults in the United States.

One area where there's substantial room for growth was highlighted in several recent court rulings in which the American's With Disabilities Act (ADA) did not protect applicants from discrimination based on potential future disabilities. In these unique cases, one candidate was turned down for a role based on the perceived risk of developing certain medical conditions, and one employee was terminated for traveling to a location where there was a perceived risk of contracting the Ebola virus.

So where does this leave organizations that want to protect their business and also reap the benefits of a diverse workforce, which include increased innovation, productivity and community? One of the most important places to start is the vetting and interviewing process. At this stage, organizations must ensure that their team understands what they can and cannot ask or consider when they're making hiring decisions.

To support these efforts, here are five best practices for eliminating bias when interviewing persons with disabilities based on the recent ADP webinar, Disability Inclusion in the Workplace: Best Practices for Engaging and Supporting ALL of Your People.

1. Partner with persons with disabilities upfront

To eliminate bias against persons with disabilities in the interviewing and hiring process, organizations must first work to gain an understanding of what it's like to be in the shoes of a person with a disability. The good news is that many employees and allies are willing to share their perspectives and help their organizations develop more inclusive policies and systems. For example, they could be involved in drafting inclusive interview questions that would help persons with disabilities feel more comfortable throughout the hiring process.

"The disabled community is made up of individuals who come from a variety of backgrounds and experiences," explains Martha Bird, Chief Business Anthropologist at ADP in the webinar. "There is so much you can learn from their lived wisdom, and organizations can access that knowledge by being empathetic, curious, and asking lots of questions of employees who self-identify that they want to participate."

2. Set clear, achievable organizational goals

Rather than thinking of accessibility and inclusivity as obligations, smart organizations will view these goals as opportunities. Once the necessary conditions for achieving greater disability inclusion have been identified, businesses can create a clear map of the steps it will take to get there and measure their progress. Part of being clear, however, is making sure to use the right language in discussions about goals.

"It is important we be thoughtful in how we communicate, as oftentimes the way information is delivered has as big an impact as the information we are communicating," Jordan Birnbaum, Chief Behavioral Economist at ADP explains in the webinar. "The first step in being thoughtful about communication is adopting a company-wide practice of using people-first language to focus on the individual, not their disability."

3. Develop a structured interview with inclusive interview questions

A structured interview approach is one where the hiring team develops a pool of inclusive interview questions it will present in the same order to every candidate. The introduction and conclusion of every interview are also structured the same way across all of the organizations' interviews to provide each candidate with a similar experience from start to finish.

This approach to interviews also allows an organization to develop a standardized evaluation methodology that hiring managers and interview teams can use to eliminate bias and ensure each candidate is being evaluated on the same criteria and considered based on their ability, not their disability.

For example, open-ended questions could easily overwhelm some candidates and provide an unnecessary advantage to candidates with strong interpersonal or speaking skills. Focusing parts of the interview on questions that allow candidates to describe specific situations and provide examples will create a more inclusive experience.

4. Deploy technology to promote inclusiveness

HR technology can be an enormous help to DEI efforts. One report from SHRM notes that HR leaders are using HR tech to maintain compliance, reduce bias in hiring and create more diverse candidate pools. Some programs even incorporate speech recognition, optical character recognition and closed captioning, which can significantly streamline applying and interviewing for persons with disabilities.

However, as much as technology can help level the playing field, it's important that organizations carefully consider whether their products are inclusive of disabled communities and not biased against them. In recent years, evidence has emerged that indicates the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning in candidate screening can actually create, rather than reduce, bias in the screening process.

As you evaluate your own HR tech, it's important to consider not only what your organization can do with technology but also what it should be doing with it. As Thiago Brum, Principal Product Manager at ADP at that time, notes in the webinar, "Applications are the vehicle to deliver the experience that makes people feel included and shows you care about them."

5. Consider new disabilities in the post-COVID-19 era

Among the many changes the pandemic brought about, one of the most significant may be the emergence of new disabilities. More than 34 million people in the U.S. contracted COVID-19, which means organizations in every industry must be prepared to support employees and candidates dealing with long-term effects, both physical and mental.

"That 34 million represents our clients, prospects, coworkers, and employees," explains Giselle Mota, Principal of Future of Work at ADP, in the webinar. "Every organization must think about greater equity and inclusivity, especially during these times."

There's no room for bias at the hiring table

The ADA, which celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2020, was not enacted to make life harder for interviewing committees or to complicate the hiring process. It was enacted to make sure that persons with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else and that the processes and technologies we use in the workplace serve people as they are, not as we think they should be.

As you prioritize and lean into your efforts to create a more diverse workforce and talent pipeline, the guidance offered above and in the ADP webinar can help you identify the deliberate steps you can take to keep bias out of your interviews with persons with disabilities.

Launch the on-demand webcast anytime: Disability Inclusion in the Workplace: Best Practices for Engaging and Supporting ALL of Your People.