Accessible Recruitment

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We all have to go through recruitment exercises. Sometimes we are the candidates, other times we are the interviewers. These processes are often a lot of work for everyone involved on both sides, especially when accessibility barriers are introduced which can lead to quality candidates not applying or not being able to show their best selves during interviews. Or on the other side, shutting out disabled voices from being on recruitment panels.

These problems are commonly known and one of the most common types of barriers faced by disabled people entering the workplace. For example, stats published by the National Autistic Society (2016) suggest that only 16% of adults with autism spectrum condition are in full-time paid work, with 77% saying that they want to work but 40% never having worked at all.

There are also government schemes such as Disability Confident which encourage employers to improve their practices to remove and reduce barriers for disabled people entering the workplace.

You may have seen this logo in the footer of many organisation websites, where they announce their level of commitment to the Disability Confident scheme.

Disability Confident Committed Logo

Sadly, we find that even with commitments and schemes like Disability Confident which aim to change organisational strategies and policies, this often does not translate to change in the day to day recruitment processes. This guide is written to help focus on more practical actions you can take when recruiting staff to make your recruitment advertisements, interviews, and onboarding processes more accessible.

5 minute summary

Only have 5 minutes? Here is what you need to know.

When you are going through a recruitment exercise, consider accessibility at every phase, from drafting the job description to welcoming your new hire on their first day in the office.

For job advertisements:

For shortlisting:

For interviews:

For onboarding:

Advertising

The first part of the recruitment process, advertising a position to prospective candidates. What is being advertised, where is it being advertised, how is it being advertised? And importantly, how do we consider accessibility during the development of a job advertisement and the advertising and application process?

Step 1 – Job descriptions

Before a job advertisement reaches any public platform, the first thing to be written is the job description (JD). Often, accessibility issues can arise at this early stage.

The way in which we structure job description documents and the way in which we phrase requirements can both lead to excluding disabled people from wanting to apply.

Structure

Firstly, let’s talk about structure. All Job description documents whether they are eventually published as a web page or are downloaded as a Word or PDF document must conform to good accessibility standards.

You can find a starting checklist of accessible document basics in the MTA accessible documents basics guide.

Possibly the most common issue we see with inaccessible job descriptions is the use of tables to split essential and desired criteria or otherwise listing qualification requirements, skills etc.

We have two real examples below, the first is a bad example of table use, the second is slightly better, but in either case, use of lists rather than tables can be used to block out different requirement levels in a more accessible way.

Bad JD structure example

A table of two columns and two rows. Column 1 heading reads 'Experience'. Column 2 heading reads 'Essential / Desired'. The Column 1 data cell contains 5 separate generic experience requirements. Column 2 contains 2 asterisk marks which have been spaced to align with requirements 3 and 5 in Column 1.

In this example, any changes to the format for example using immersive reader may move the asterisks, confusing which criteria they align to, and for screen reader users the table is completely incoherent.

The screen reader experience would be one of having all of the criteria listed in one cell, before the next cell just reading “asterisk, asterisk, asterisk” with no indication of what criteria they relate to.

Better JD structure example

A table of two columns and two rows. Column 1 heading reads 'Essential criteria'. Column 2 heading reads 'Desirable criteria'. Column 1 data cell contains 3 generic essential requirements in a bulleted list. Column 2 data cell contains 2 desirable criteria in a bulleted list.

Making improvements to JD structure can sometimes be the job of HR teams rather than individual managers where an organisation uses JD templates which you must adhere to. A good action to take to start making an organisation wide difference to your recruitment is to review all recruitment templates such as JDs, advert templates etc. and update them to follow accessible practices and provide instructions within the templates on how managers can write accessible JDs using the template.

JD Content

Along with making the structure of job descriptions accessible, there are further actions you can take to improve the content of your JDs not only so they better support neurodiverse applicants but will be better for everyone.

The language you use in your job descriptions and where the important information is located all impacts how compelling the JD may be to prospective applicants. The core advice is to follow plain English practices. This is not about “watering down” content, but about making your text as smooth to read as possible.

You will still use all the field appropriate jargon in the description but the order in which you provide information, and the way in which you describe responsibilities can all be streamlined to help people get through your JD without getting bored or put off.

For example, one of the most important suggestions in plain English guidance is to put the most important information first. So instead, of writing out your corporate ethos first, and pointlessly obvious requirements, like timekeeping and attention to detail at the beginning of a JD, and then the individual role responsibilities last, swap the order. Present the information specific to the job, ie. the essential and desirable criteria, and the responsibilities first, then talk about less specific organisation wide behaviours at the end.

Make Things Accessible Plain English Tip Sheet.

Along with the way you phrase content, you should consider what the job description is offering and if it is likely to be interesting to prospective candidates. Things like the term of the contract and the work pattern can all be immediate disqualifiers for some quality candidates.

Obviously, these larger concerns about job offers may be outside of your control and depend on budget constraints but we should all consider the changing job market and what makes us attractive employers for candidates today.

For example, remote working is a serious factor in many people's decision on job roles now. This can be doubly so for many disabled people for whom travel is a significant struggle but otherwise would be a very effective employee. Remote working policies not only help roles be attractive to disabled candidates but can widen the pool of talent available to you. For niche roles, attracting qualified candidates in a smaller geographical area can be challenging but if remote working is a possibility, you can have a much larger candidate pool from people further afield.

Offering remote first working in this way therefore can significantly improve the possible diversity of your candidates and workforce.

Likewise, short term contracts are a massive turn off for many candidates. Applicants are generally fed up or not interested in precarious employment. If you are offering 2 year contracts or less, expect to get a smaller pool of applicants. People have mortgages or rent to pay and short term approaches are not attractive job offers.

For disabled applicants the prospect of short term contracts or bouncing between employment and benefits can be additionally troubling. For many disabled people the benefits systems and the additional checks required with regards to disability are a bad experience to navigate, and brief employment can mean the process must be started again from the beginning so many may avoid short term employment if it means having to restart disability claims.

Step 2 – Advertising on job sites

Now that you have your JD and advertisement text together in a compelling plain English and accessible format, you should consider where you are going to advertise job roles.

You may have your own internal jobs website, for example Government use Civil Service Jobs to consistently list job advertisements. But how do you get the advertisement out to prospective candidates who are not actively searching your website?

You are most likely going to promote your job opportunity on third party job sites such as LinkedIn or Indeed.

When you publish adverts on these third party platforms you should consider what the accessibility of those platforms are. Do they have any information on the accessibility of their job search functionality or if they are offering streamlined application services, what are the accessibility features of those routes?

LinkedIn for example offers their own accessibility support information, as well as putting out accessibility features to make their platform more useable.

Step 3 – Your job application process

If you are hosting the adverts on your own jobs website or as part of your main website, you should also be considering the accessibility of your platforms. Can users get to your jobs areas, and can they use search controls or otherwise interact with your content?

Depending on who you are as an organisation you may be required to deliver your recruitment content on your websites in an accessible way under the law. For example public sector organisations in the UK would be required to deliver accessible websites including their recruitment areas under the Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications)(No.2) Regulations 2018, likewise all other organisations would be required to offer reasonable adjustments and not discriminate based on disability under the Equality Act 2010. If you are blocking disabled people from being able to apply for jobs, you could be putting your organisation at risk of legal challenges because of discriminatory hiring practices.

We advise reviewing both your jobs listing platforms as well as your application processes against the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.2) requirements and broader accessibility good practice guidelines to confirm that this stage of your recruitment process can be completed by any user.

Document application forms

If you are using Word or PDF application forms, once again you should consider how accessible these templates are and if there are alternative routes to submission that do not rely on these templates.

Many people that write word template application forms use tables to provide questions and then blank cells for user answers. This is an inaccessible style most of the time if there is not consistent layout or association between the question cell and the cell where users are expected to input an answer.

Likewise, PDFs can often have many accessibility issues. Even if you are using tagged PDF form elements to create an interactive form, PDF formats can often lack good structure depending on how they were made.

Application platforms

Besides document forms, many now utilise online application processes for users to provide all of their information using a web form. Depending on the form builder you use, you may encounter many accessibility issues even with a basic form.

Lack of associated labels and legends with form fields, poor error messaging, inaccessible date pickers, file upload problems, and form timeouts can all be common web form issues. And that’s all before we talk about any more complex application journey problems.

Step 3 - Accommodations and promotion

Finally, if you are concerned that your application routes do not meet accessibility standards and that they may hinder completion by some disabled candidates, are you making clear and present through all stages of the advertisement and application process that you welcome disabled or diverse applicants and if an applicant requires a reasonable adjustment, content in a different format, or an alternate way to submit their application or register interest, they can contact you through a given route?

To further demonstrate your level of commitment to a fair and accessible interview process you can always direct to more content if you have it such as case studies or user stories from existing staff as examples of you delivering good workplace adjustments during their time working for you. Any promotional content that best highlights the inclusivity of your working environment can be useful in encouraging marginalised groups of applicants to consider applying.

Shortlisting and your panel

The advice in this section will apply to all internal documentation as you consider shortlisting your candidates, and any involvement from other members of staff as part of shortlisting or interviewing panels.

It is not just disabled applicants that you should be considering when looking at the accessibility of your recruitment process. Staff can have disabilities as well.

Sharing candidate applications

When candidates submit their applications, you cannot always confirm that what they submit will be accessible. Be ready to convert candidate applications into more accessible formats if they are to be shared with panel members that would require accessible content.

Likewise, if your application systems exports applications in inaccessible PDF formats, consider and plan in the time to move applications over into word documents, plain text or other formats that would work better for your chosen panel members.

Remember that these are often one use documents on a short timeline process. You may not need to adjust candidate applications to be 100% WCAG compliant accessible but should focus on making adjustments for your specific panel audience. Speak to your panel members before the shortlisting process and get a clear idea of what if any format adjustments would be required for those individuals.

Scoring and feedback templates

It is likely that for consistency across your organisation’s approach to interview, you will be using some form of scoring or feedback form, most likely an organisation template.

If you are taking a broader review of your organisation’s recruitment documents, you may be able to make accessibility changes to this part of the process. If you are a lone hiring manager, you may be more concerned about just your recruitment being more accessible for today.

If you have panel members that may have trouble entering feedback or scoring notes into a poor Word table or Excel form, speak to that panel member and work out the best way to get their feedback that you can then add into the appropriate template. That may be the panel member providing the written feedback to you in a blank document, it might be the panel member dictating feedback as you capture their responses in your own notes. Whatever it is, work with your panel member in advance to ensure that their contribution to the documentation is not lost.

Diverse panels

This section is going to be relevant for both shortlisting and interview panels. Many organisations now have policies that include requirements for panel diversity such as a panel must have above a certain percentage of women on the panel or above a certain percentage of non-white panel members etc. Representation is an important part of an inclusive workplace and should be respectful of all parties, including those you are putting forward to represent your organisation.

One principle to adhere to when considering panel members is have people with a related skill set on the panel. If you have a disabled member of staff with relevant technical skills that would make them a good panel member to include, have their inclusion be because of their related skills and then overcome any accessibility issues. Do not include disabled members of staff as mouthpieces just because you want “disabled representation” or any other token representation on a panel. Nothing screams lack of inclusive behaviour like introducing a “X” token minority panellist who then proceeds to ask no questions or otherwise sits quietly for the entire interview process.

Additionally, having representation on panels is a good thing and for a disabled candidate, seeing someone with a similar lived experience and being able to ask them how accommodating the company are, is it easy to get to the bathroom, the cafeteria, how's space in the office, what is the workplace adjustments process like etc. may be an important conversation that tips the scales of their decision to accept or reject an offer. You may consider that this is a conversation you want to encourage during an interview and include panellists accordingly even if they are not from the same area of the business. Or you may want to consider how else you could promote or facilitate these discussions separate to the interview. Referring to Step 3 - Accommodations and promotion, this may be something you do in an earlier phase to encourage disabled applicants to speak with existing disabled staff or do early in onboarding where you introduce new staff to colleague disability network groups.

Screening tasks

After users have submitted their application, your processes may include further online screening processes. You may require applicants to complete online cognition tests, record short videos to specific questions as an early stage interview round, or for some companies that recruit internationally may require testing for language competencies in which applicants hear audio questions and must record their responses verbally. All these additional tasks can introduce further accessibility issues or discriminate against disabled applicants.

Cognitive tests or many of these culture screening tests which ask silly questions about whether you are a “go getter” or a “no getter” can be discriminatory to neurodiverse applicants, particularly those that may not conform to expected social cues when presented with some of these abstract corporate culture questions. Not to mention everyone generally hates these bonus tasks.

Video recording and audio only tests obviously may present barriers to Deaf or hard of hearing applicants, or those with a speech impediment, stammer or other condition that may impact their ability to present on a timed video exercise though they may perform perfectly well in the advertised job role.

If you must use screening tasks, ensure that they are directly related to the skills that the job role requires. For example, the language competency and a level of hearing and speech acuity may be required in the case of a call centre operative, and the ability to present on video may be required for a news reader. But for a non-customer facing desk job are those tests still as applicable? Probably not.

Interviews

The next step on the process is inviting candidates for interviews. There are many considerations for accessibility you may want to think about to take your interviews to the next level.

Questions in advance

The biggest change that is talked about when accessible recruitment comes up is sending interview questions in advance of the interview itself. This is often seen as a complete upheaval of what an interview is supposed to be and is often a polarising topic.

The arguments against are that it will allow applicants time to prepare. Poor quality applicants can google answers and cover up their unsuitability. How can you tell if everyone is prepared?

Speaking from experience having conducted interview with the questions in advance, these arguments are often unfounded. You can still quite easily tell a candidate who knows a topic well from a candidate who did a Google search or two before the meeting.

What providing the interview questions in advance does is allows people who prepare differently to put their best foot forwards and show you what they would be like in a professional setting. Very rarely is a quick off the cuff answer preferred to a considered and correct answer. It should be the same with an interview response. Do you want the candidate to give you their quickfire anecdote even if it is not the best, or do you want them to give their best representative example?

Additionally, you get to see more of how the candidates use different preparation strategies. One candidate may have made a lot of written notes, one may prefer to respond from memory. You get to see more of their working pattern and approach to a task which is useful insight.

For an extra note on note making. Some interviewers do not like to see candidates take out notes during an interview or refer to any written notes. We recommend encouraging it. Its literally written evidence that the candidate is taking this seriously and has done some preparation, why would you not want them to come prepared or show that to you?

We believe that interview questions in advance reduces stress for applicants and makes the interview process better not only for the candidates but for the panellists as well. It raises the quality of the experience for all involved.

Look at the Westminster case study to see the impacts of this change in action.

Reasonable adjustments

As we recommend throughout the application process, you should make it clear that applicants should feel comfortable to request any necessary reasonable adjustments for them to be able to attend and complete the interview. This may be tech changes if you are expecting them to complete a task, this may be a change to the interview format or other reasonable accommodations.

The important thing is that you make it clear that you are happy for people raise reasonable adjustment requests, it will in no way impact any judging of the interview, and that you are prepared to take action to deliver the adjustments.

Format of the interview

The challenge of travel for some disabled applicants, and the possibility that you may be recruiting a remote role may mean you need to consider the format of your interview whether it is in person or virtual.

Try to consider what is best for all involved, both panellists and applicants and what accessibility considerations you may need to make in both cases. For example, with in person interviews, you may need to consider the accessibility of your offices and the meeting room. Is it level access, or is the meeting room hidden away up several staircases because it was the only one you could book at the time? We have all been there.

Alternatively, with virtual interviews have you considered accessibility options for your chosen meeting platform. If an applicant is hard of hearing for example, you may want to ensure that you are using a platform which enables user side captions such as Microsoft Teams if that is an appropriate accommodation. In any situation, it is useful as part of your invite to interview to let attendees know what platform you are using and direct to accessibility features for that platform.

Interview tasks

We have already discussed some online tasks as part of shortlisting exercises. Many interviews, particularly for those looking for a given technical skillset may require interview tasks, such as a presentation, live auditing, or other such technical task to demonstrate competency.

When organising interview tasks, you should notify applicants as early as possible that there will be a task and a generic description of what the task will be eg. coding task, presentation etc. This will allow applicants time to let you know if there are any reasonable adjustments, they may require to complete the task. For example, if you are conducting in person interviews, and will provide applicants with a work laptop from which to work on the task, you may need to install a screen reader to correctly support a blind applicant.

Likewise, for remote tasks, applicants will be given the chance to install any programs they might need in advance, and or request alternate formats if it is likely that task instructions or resources are likely to be in an inaccessible format.

Crowding the interview panel

Another common mistake with interviews is overcrowding the interview panel. Yes there may be several people that want to be involved in the interview process, but you should be considerate of the additional stress that being presented with an inordinately large panel of interviewers can cause not just for neurodiverse applicants, but all applicants. I am sure most of us would be happier with a 1 on 1 or 2 on one chat, rather than being presented with a panel of six people.

Try and keep the interview panel to a core group, the hiring manager, direct supervisors, and other skills based panel members. Opportunities to meet department heads and other members of the team can all be incorporated as part of the onboarding process.

Westminster case study

The University of Westminster Academic Engagement and Learning Development (AELD) – Library and Archives Services engaged in a recruitment improvement activity following training focussed on better supporting employing autistic and other neurodiverse applicants.

The purpose of this improvement activity was to trial options to offer a more inclusive recruitment process and deliver practical application of the University of Westminster EDI principles.

Read the full case study and download the examples and resources in the Westminster accessible recruitment case study.

Onboarding

Finally, you should have made your decision and made a job offer to the successful candidate. But the recruitment is not done until all the paperwork is signed and the candidate has passed probation. The next step is onboarding the new hire into the organisation. At this time many accessibility issues can start to raise their heads.

If applicants have not disclosed disabilities before this point, this can often be a stage at which this information is shared as it will require workplace adjustments. There are often unfortunate stories where this disclosure can lead to negative consequences for the applicant, which leads to many disabled people being concerned about disclosure. The recent news article about Celia Chartres-Aris (2024) describes her experience of having a job offer rescinded as she disclosed her disability at this stage.

You should ensure that all new hires go through any workplace assessment checks as part of your HR processes, such as desk setup, disability disclosures, requests for additional equipment or software, and be mindful that any disclosed information should not impact the decision to carry forward with the hiring process. We have legal duties as employers to make reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act to ensure that staff with disabilities can complete their roles. The onboarding process is a chance to get things started on the right foot, rather than allowing issues to fester or become an immediate bad feeling for you and the candidate.

Ideally, all workplace adjustments and purchasing or installation of equipment or software should be completed before the new hire’s first day. This requires a proactive approach to completing these tasks but can make the start of the person’s employment a much smoother experience.

This may also mean that new hires will have to interact with several HR or other onboarding systems or forms to get registered, get accounts set up etc. Now is an excellent time to broach with owners of these systems, questions about their WCAG compliance and what can be done to improve the accessibility of these systems, forms or other documentation.

Finally, now may be an excellent time to introduce the new member of staff to colleague disability networks or other support mechanisms they may want to be aware of within the organisation. If a new starter has any reservations about navigating the organisation as a disabled employee, introducing them to other members of staff who are more personally familiar with the systems and policies that will impact them as a disabled employee can help them feel supported and start building that sense of community and inclusion.

References

There are many more resources available if you are interested in further information on accessible recruitment. The stories or articles we have mentioned through this guide are listed below along with many other sources that have informed our thinking on the subject.

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