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Accessibility in the Job Search Phase

You are working with one of your clients who has a disability and, through your connections, learn of an upcoming position that matches his interests and skills. He is very much interested in the job, but you are told that he must apply online – a significant challenge given his visual impairment.

The Employment Accessibility Standard of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) mandates that organizations must identify, remove and prevent employment barriers while providing accommodations at all stages of hiring, from recruitment to job offer. While much effort is put into providing accommodations to overcome disability related barriers to task performance once a person has been hired, little consideration is given to making the job search process accessible. This is particularly evident in online applications, phone screening and behavioural interviews.

One of the pitfalls to the online application process is an inaccessible website. In particular, it creates barriers for people who are visually impaired or have other types of limitations in visual processing. In an effort to help employers make their online application tools more accessible, the Partnership on Employment and Accessible Technology (PEAT), funded by the U.S. Department of Labour’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, surveyed people with disabilities across the nation and identified a number of accessibility flaws including complex navigation, inaccessible form fields and time out restrictions; lack of video captioning and alternative text for images (replacing images with textual information); as well as poor screen contrast and mouse-only input option. Forty-nine percent of the participants interviewed rated their last online application as difficult to impossible. Nine percent of this group were unable to complete the application, while twenty-four percent required assistance.[1]

Interviews can be a barrier to people who are deaf, deafened or hard of hearing. Their disability may come into play if they may need a sign language interpreter or have difficulty hearing interviewers who speak quickly or unclearly; have a pronounced accent; do not look directly at the applicant; or who are not seated in a strategic position so that the applicant can read their lips and facial expressions (this is particularly problematic in a telephone or panel interview).

The interview process can also pose an obstacle to people with learning disabilities who have limited verbal expressive ability and have difficulty answering questions in a way that demonstrates their competencies, experience, potential and suitability to the position. These limitations may be exacerbated by depression and low self esteem that often develops from long term unemployment.

Behavioural interviews are particularly challenging to people with disabilities of all types because the underlying premise is that how an applicant responded to and solved work related or other problems in the past can be an indication of future performance and, as a result, indicate how effective s/he will likely be in the current job opening. Many people with disabilities, because of the nature of their illness, parental over-protection or societal exclusion, have lost out on developmental milestones and learning experiences available to their non-disabled peers. Their opportunities to learn skills are quashed and their potential remains untapped. This lack of experience, which is so commonly a mandatory requirement for any job, can make it difficult for applicants with disabilities to demonstrate communication, decision-making, problem solving and other core work related life skills developed as a result of lived experience with disability.

So, if we go back to your visually impaired client who has been instructed to apply online, what can you, as an employment counsellor or job developer do?  In accommodating persons with disabilities during the application process, the Government of Canada stipulates that the purpose of such accommodation at this stage is to remove barriers created by testing methods (verbal, written, electronic/technical), without compromising the nature or level of qualifications required.[2] They provide examples of standard accommodations such as attendant services, sign language interpreters, alternative communication formats, reader services and technical support. While physical and sensory accommodations are relatively easy to identify and apply, more subtle accommodations for invisible disabilities such as mental illness, learning disability or autism require more innovative, creative problem solving such as communicating skills and experience through portfolios, job trials or reverse job fairs in which candidates interview prospective employers.

Conversely, the guidelines set out by the Government of Canada state that the applicant must responsibly communicate the need for and participate in identifying their accommodation needs with the appropriate contact person in charge of scheduling and conducting the interview process. This includes the nature and extent of functional limitations and experiences with past successful accommodations. Request for accommodation must be made to the employer’s company or organization and, in particular, to the relevant department or person in charge of the hiring process such as the human resources adviser assigned to the hiring process of that particular job; the hiring manager; or a Human Resources diversity representative.

Unfortunately, by the time a vacant position is advertised, there is little flexibility in negotiating bona fide or non essential duties of the job.  Given the pressure to fill the position as quickly as possible, there is also no time to get to know the company’s needs and work culture, nor for the employer to learn about your agency’s services and your candidates’ strengths. On the contrary, the ideal accommodation for people with disabilities in the job search stage is relationship based job development on the part of the job developer long before a vacancy is posted.


[1] Thomas, Empish J. Thomas (28-10-2015); http://www.visionaware.org/blog/visually-impaired-now-what/the-challenges-of-applying-for-a-job-online/12

[2] Government of Canada (2014-09-15). “The Application Process, Accommodation for Persons with Disabilities”. http://jobs-emplois.gc.ca/centres/apply-postuler/accomodation-adaptation-eng.php:

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Denise Feltham
Designer of D.I.C.E. (Disability Impact on Career/Employment). Owner/Operator of D.I.C.E. Assessment & Employment Counselling Services Bachelor of Social Work Degree (Ryerson University). Career & Work Counsellor Diploma (George Brown College) Life Skills Coach Certification (Levels I & II) - YWCA

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