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Employer Tips on Interviewing Applicants with Disabilities

Employers are as perplexed by the social aspects of interviewing someone with a disability as they are by the legal concerns. Here are some basic guidelines for keeping a job interview focused on the applicant's qualifications.

When Interviewing an Applicant with Any Disability

  • Don't ask: "What happened to you?" or "How will you get to work?"
  • Don't ask questions in terms of disability, such "Do you have a mental condition that would preclude you from qualifying for this position?"
  • Do ask job-related questions: "How would you perform this particular task?"
  • Don't ask, "How often will you require leave for treatment of your condition?" However, you may state the organizations attendance requirements and ask if the applicant can meet them.
  • Don't start the interview by trying to elicit the applicant's needs for accommodation. The interview should focus on whether the candidate is qualified for the job in question. Focus on the applicant's abilities. If there is a need for a discussion concerning accommodations, this should come later.
  • It is the applicant's responsibility to request accommodations. Don't ask the job applicant, "Will you need accommodations?" or "What kind of accommodations will you need?" However, if you have concerns over an applicant's ability to perform an essential function of a job, given the applicants obvious or disclosed disability, you can ask the applicant how they would go about performing that task.
  • Always offer to shake hands. Do not avoid eye contact, but don't stare either.
  • Treat the applicant as you would any other adult - don't be patronizing. If you don't usually address applicants by the first name, don't make an exception for applicants with disabilities.
  • If you feel it appropriate, offer the applicant assistance (for example, if an individual with poor grasping ability is having trouble opening a door), but don't assume it will necessarily be accepted. Don't automatically give assistance, without asking first.

When Interviewing an Applicant Who Uses a Wheelchair

  • Don't lean on the wheelchair.
  • Get on the same eye level with the applicant if the conversation lasts more than a minute or so.
  • Don't push the wheelchair unless you are asked to do so.
  • Keep accessibility in mind. Is that chair in the middle of your office a barrier to a wheelchair user? If so, move it aside.
  • Don't be embarrassed to use such phrases as "Let's walk over to the plant."

When Interviewing an Applicant Who is Mentally Retarded

  • Use simple, concrete language, but don't use baby talk.
  • When giving instructions or directions, proceed slowly.
  • Be patient, and repeat directions if necessary.
  • Ask the applicant to summarize the information you have given to make sure it was understood.
  • Give positive feedback whenever possible and appropriate.

When Interviewing an Applicant Who is Blind

  • Immediately identify yourself and others present; cue a handshake verbally or physically.
  • Use verbal cues; be descriptive in giving directions. (The table is about five steps to your left.)
  • Verbalize chair location, or place the person's hand on the back of the chair, but do not place the person in the chair.
  • Don't be embarrassed to use such phrases as "Do you see what I mean?"
  • Don't shout.
  • Keep doors either open or closed; a half-open door is a serious hazard.
  • Offer assistance with mobility; let the applicant grasp your left arm, usually just above the elbow. Again, ask first, and do not be surprised if assistance is refused.
  • Do not touch an applicant's cane. Do not touch a guide dog when in a harness. In fact, resist the temptation to pet a guide dog.

When Interviewing an Applicant Who is Deaf

  • You may need to use a physical signal to get the applicant's attention.
  • If the applicant is lip reading, enunciate clearly, keep your mouth clear of obstructions, and place yourself where there is ample lighting. Keep in mind that an accomplished lip reader will be able to clearly understand only 30-35% of what you are saying.
  • The best method to communicate is to use a combination of gestures and facial expressions. You may also want to learn how to fingerspell, or, if you are more ambitious, take a course in American Sign Language.
  • Don't shout.
  • If you don't understand what the applicant is telling you, don't pretend you did. Ask the candidate to repeat the sentence(s).
  • If necessary, use a sign language interpreter. But keep in mind that the interpreter's job is to translate, not to get involved in any other way. Therefore, always face and speak directly to the applicant, not the interpreter. Don't say to the interpreter, "Tell her..."

For more tips on etiquette, see the information on particular conditions in section 5, Disability Fact Sheets.


Adapted from: MIN Report, July-August 1991

From: National Center on Workforce & Disability website:

See: Disability: The Basics; Dos and Don'ts; Employer Tips on Interviewing Applicants with Disabilities

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