Accessible Online Job Recruitment Must Be a Priority, Now and Always

A photo of a person's hands typing on a laptop, which is on a table. The laptop has several images popping out from it, including a graphic that says "we're hiring" and a form to upload a resume, indicating that the person using it is applying for a job.

It’s psychometric testing time. My excitement at making it through the first stage of the recruitment process for a grad position fades to apprehension at the thought of those multichoice problem-solving or personality quizzes. I’m hardly the only one to dread them. But as a blind jobseeker, the fateful phase comes with an extra and unnecessary dose of uncertainty: Will that test be accessible to me?

In the last two months, many companies innovated remote work possibilities into their routines almost overnight. Many disabled people have appreciated the newfound lack of stress about venue accessibility, working more effectively with the flexibility to account for their health or pain levels and asking why it took a pandemic for many businesses to implement accessibility suggestions they’d been demanding for years.

Now we have the chance to lock in those gains long-term, but moving online doesn’t de facto mean becoming accessible. With sharply rising unemployment levels in which disabled jobseekers are generally vastly over-represented, employers have the opportunity to harness the innovating spirit of our times to attract disabled talent by making their recruitment processes accessible and inclusive. 

Understanding the value of accessibility

I remember the day a software researcher transformed my understanding of accessibility. I was testing out learning management software Moodle with a screen-reader called JAWS–a synthesised speech programme many blind people use to interact with computers. I completed most tasks with ease until it came to uploading a file. It wasn’t remotely obvious how to do that; there was, for instance, no button labelled “upload’ or “choose file.”

“Not accessible,” the researcher muttered after my third unsuccessful attempt. “Hang on…” I replied distractedly. “I might have it now.” I had indeed gotten it on my fourth try. But the researcher made the more salient point: “That task was not accessible. If it was accessible, it would not have taken you four tries and five minutes to work out something that is very obvious looking at the screen.”

Accessibility is, in short, about user-friendliness. More fundamental than laws or standards or articles like this one, it is about people.

Hiring disabled candidates means inviting them in

Meriah Nichols, a deaf career counsellor with a background in HR, explains that hiring disabled people who are qualified for the role is smart because we make up about a fifth of the population and tend to be outside-the-box thinkers who will also help businesses meet their bottom line. But that won’t happen by magic, either. If job descriptions contain references to tasks rather than essential functions or outcomes, they can needlessly discriminate. Does the applicant really need to be able to drive or is it an ability to travel regularly that’s required? Do they really need to be able to type at 100 words a minute or is it simply the capacity to produce two blog posts per day that’s needed?

Is all the information in the job listing accessible? Is that video about the benefits of working at your company captioned? Do images advertising the job on Facebook or Instagram contain descriptive alternative text (alt text) so blind people find out what they show, including any text hiding inside? Using alt text to describe images on your website, by the way, is also good for search engine optimisation. Accessibility is “essential for some, useful for all.”

Dr. Manisha Amin, CEO of Australia’s centre for Inclusive Design, says employers often struggle to hear from disabled job applicants and wonder why. “The key here is that you may not know what’s not working if you don’t ask,” she says. Businesses can start by checking out resources like the Digital Accessibility and Recruitment guide the Centre has published and get in touch with professional accessibility services for expert advice, preferably ones with disabled people on staff.

“Accessible recruitment is good for everyone,” Dr. Amin adds. “It makes the experience easy and is more flexible. We’ve not only had positive responses to the recruitment process but also to the calibre and insights that a diverse cohort bring to the organisation.”

Does the vetting process inadvertently exclude great candidates?

From improving screen-reader accessibility to captioning content and ensuring it’s explained in easy-to-read language, accessibility considerations can be wide-ranging. Tanner Gers, Business Development Lead at the American Foundation for the Blind, tells me too many corporations are unfamiliar with the range of technology from voice-typing solutions to screen-readers which disabled people leverage every day. He explains that open conversations about ways of working and reasonable accommodations lead to disabled people and employers making educated decisions together.

Otherwise, unfounded biases can cause discrimination. Robyn Powell, a disabled attorney specializing in disability law and policy, told HuffPost: “I’ve encountered tons of discrimination when I’ve applied for jobs and in the hiring process. I’ve never taken action even though I could, and it’s because I was looking for a job. When you’re applying for a job, the last thing you want to do is rock the boat.”

This is why making it clear to candidates throughout the job application process that they can request reasonable accommodations is key. That means budgeting for them, just as you budget for other tech or talent-scouting or training sessions that optimise the search for a great candidate. Listening to people’s individual needs is important. For instance, D/deaf people may variously prefer to communicate through sign language using an interpreter, by typing, using live transcription, etc. Disabled people have plenty of practice figuring out which systems work for them and explaining their needs.

Angela Desmarais, who has attention deficit disorder (ADD) and works in disability advocacy, says she’d like recruiters to reconsider psychometric recruitment tests altogether, asking whether the questions and time constraints on these tests are a genuinely useful barometer of a candidate’s suitability for the role. She reflects: “Personality tests with A/B selections that have lots of ambiguity aren’t an exercise suitable for an ADD empath that tries to see situations from all points of view because I just come across as indecisive!”

Baking in accessibility

The day I found out I’d be completing an online psychometric test for a graduate position, I tried to answer the sample questions. Picking the odd number out among multiples of ten was a piece of pie for me. But working out if I could cajole my screen-reading software into letting me drag and drop it into position using the keyboard was not. Standard, accessible ways of selecting controls for screen-readers have existed for a quarter of a century and this testing platform didn’t employ them. There was nothing the friendly HR person on the end of the email line, who had remembered to invite applicants to get in touch if they had accessibility requests, could do about that particular baked-in shortcoming, which meant I needed sighted assistance to complete the test.

It’s one example of why accessibility matters at a systemic level. Procuring accessible products isn’t the sexiest topic, but neither is finding out the software you just spent thousands on has a critical security flaw. Disability:IN, a non-profit promoting inclusion of disabled people in business, see the parallel in the need to vet carefully: “Purchasing inaccessible products and software is akin to buying something broken or incomplete or something with known security gaps. You are not getting your money’s worth.“

Disability lawyer Lainey Feingold advises being proactive in embedding accessibility deeply into an organisation and its system, which she refers to as “baking it in.“ The next time I apply for work, I’m sure I’ll be disappointed if I don’t get the job. But if I don’t have to advocate for accessibility and inclusion to be baked into the process, that will come with an odd sort of relief.

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