The job interview is perhaps the most critical part of the hiring process. It’s where employers gain information about an applicant’s experience, skills and abilities to make an informed decision regarding his suitability for the job.
Title 1 of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) makes it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against a qualified job applicant who happens to have a disability. If not managed properly, however, the interview could run afoul of ADA guidelines, causing not only embarrassment for the employer and applicant but also potential fines to the company.
But how is an employer or hiring manager to know which questions are appropriate to ask, that abide by ADA guidelines, and which are not? Also, what particular rules of etiquette apply when interviewing a candidate with a disability that may also coincide with Title 1?
This article seeks to address those issues. It includes ten interview tips based on ADA guidelines as well as a list of questions that employers can ask and those they cannot.
Interview Tips Based on ADA Guidelines
Follow these ten tips, derived from the National Center on Disability and Journalism, U.S. Department of Labor and National Center on Workforce and Disability websites, when interviewing applicants with disabilities, to make certain you adhere to ADA guidelines.
1. Prepare Properly in Advance
Ensure that your company’s application and interviewing procedures comply with the ADA fully. Also, check that all application forms, employment offices and interview areas are accessible to persons with different disabilities.
2. Don’t Ask if Applicants Need Accommodations
Don’t start the interview by attempting to elicit the applicant’s need for accommodation. Focus instead on whether the candidate can do the job. It is his responsibility to request accommodations.
]ADA regulations do require employers to provide “reasonable accommodation” — appropriate changes and adjustments — to enable a disabled person to be considered for a job opening. And an employer cannot refuse to consider an applicant because she requires reasonable accommodation to compete for a job.
An employer does not have to provide a particular accommodation, however, if it would cause an “undue hardship” — that is if it would require significant difficulty or expense. Nevertheless, an employer cannot refuse to provide an accommodation solely because it entails some costs, either financial or administrative.
3. Inform Applicants if You Require Tests
Let applicants know ahead of time if it will be necessary to take a test to demonstrate their ability to perform tasks so that they can request a reasonable accommodation, such as a different format for a written exam.
4. Allow Time for the Interview and Tests
Some people may require additional time for the interview or to take tests, so allow for it.
5. Speak Directly to Persons with Hearing Loss
When interviewing someone with a hearing loss, talk directly to the person and maintain eye contact rather than interacting with an interpreter or companion. Wait to speak until the person is looking at you.
6. Identify Yourself to Visually-impaired Persons
When interviewing a visually-impaired applicant, identify yourself and others with you. When conversing in a group, remember to identify the person to whom you are speaking.
Also, while it is permissible to offer assistance with mobility, wait until the person accepts the offer, and then listen or ask for instructions regarding how to proceed. Don’t be surprised if the individual refuses the offer.
7. Listen Attentively to Those with Speech Impairment
Listen attentively when talking to a person who has difficulty speaking. Be patient and wait for the person to finish rather than correcting his speech or completing the sentence. That is a clear sign of disrespect.
Also, don’t pretend to understand the person if you have trouble doing so. Instead, repeat what you think was said and allow him to respond.
8. Get on the Same Level as Person in Wheelchair
Get on the same eye level with a wheelchair-bound applicant. Also, recognize that a wheelchair is part of the individual’s body space, so do not lean or hang on to it.
9. Hold Disabled People to the Same Standards as All Applicants
According to ADA, applicants with disabilities, like anyone else, must be able to meet the employer’s requirements for the job and perform the “essential functions” of the job either on their own or with the aid of a reasonable accommodation.
10. Other Tips
Additional interview tips based on ADA guidelines include:
- Offer to shake hands when greeting a person with a disability but take into account the fact that people with prosthetics or limited hand motion may feel uncomfortable doing so.
- Remember that service animals and guide dogs are at work. Therefore, do not make eye contact, praise, talk to or pet them.
- Relax and attempt to make the applicant feel relaxed. Try not to think of the person as any different than someone without a disability.
- Concentrate on the candidate’s knowledge, skills, abilities, experiences and interests, not the disability.
- Only ask questions that relate to the functions of the job for which the applicant is applying.
- Accord the person with the same respect as you would any candidate whose skills you are seeking.
Questions to Ask and Not to Ask
When it comes to asking interview questions, remember this basic rule: You can ask applicants about their abilities but not their disabilities.
Here is a list of questions, adapted from ADA guidelines (PDF) that it is OK to ask, along with a list that it’s not Ok to ask.
Questions OK to Ask
Employers can ask questions about an applicant’s ability to perform specific job functions, such as:
- What training, education and skills do you have that will help you be successful in this position?
- What certifications or licenses do you have?
- Can you complete all the required job functions, tasks and duties listed, with or without accommodation?
- Can you perform the physical requirements of the job adequately? (Have a list for the applicant to review.)
- How many days were you away from your last job?
- What is your work history? Why did you leave your last job?
Questions Not OK to Ask
Employers cannot ask the applicant, his previous employers or anyone else questions relating to the existence, nature or severity of a disability, says the ADA. They include:
- Do you have conditions or limitations that might affect your ability to do the job?
- Have you ever been treated for any mental health problems? Have you ever seen a psychiatrist?
- Have you ever been hospitalized? If so, for what?
- Do you have a heart condition, asthma, diabetes or another chronic disease? (You cannot ask questions about specific health conditions.)
- How did you become disabled? Why do you use a wheelchair?
- How many days were you absent due to sickness at your last job?
- Will you need to take a leave of absence for any medical or disability-related reason?
- Have you ever filed for worker’s compensation?
- Is there a health reason why you may not be able to perform the duties of the job?
- What prescription drugs are you currently taking?
Following these rules of etiquette and asking only questions related to a person’s abilities, not his disabilities, will keep you on the right side of the law and can net you an employee that you might have failed to consider otherwise.
Interview Photo via Shutterstock