Wheelchair users and other individuals living with disabilities are confronted with numerous barriers to pursuing their career goals.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for persons with a disability was 9.2 percent in 2017, more than twice that of those with no disability.
One major factor is the lack of reasonable accommodation and support for people with disabilities to efficiently perform work-related tasks in an environment that is not only accessible but welcoming.
United Spinal Association’s diverse community of people living with spinal cord injuries and disorders is composed of thousands of talented, career-driven professionals striving for success. Many of these individuals have one thing in common, they found employers who were willing to accommodate their needs so that they could become valuable members of the workforce.
Employers should take appropriate steps when applicable to remove barriers and make reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities, whether they use wheelchairs and other mobility devices or live with impairments and require assistive technology.
How can you make people with disabilities feel welcome? It really starts DAY 1.
• Don’t rely on body language as a measure during the interview process. Lack of eye contact or a mild grip handshake may be caused by an applicant’s disability–not his or her lack of confidence
• Do put yourself on the same level as the individual in a wheelchair as soon as possible by sitting down during the conversation or interview
• Don’t take hold of an individual’s wheelchair or push his or her wheelchair unless asked to do so
• Do provide assistance only in the manner requested
• Talk to the person – not the attendant if they come with an attendant or assistant
• Do try to treat an individual with disabilities as you would treat any other person
• Don’t trap yourself into thinking “If I were disabled how would I feel?”
• Do avoid statements such as “I admire your courage” or “You’ve done so much for a person in a wheelchair”
• Don’t try to put yourself in the applicant’s place and ask yourself “Could I do this job if I were disabled?”
• Don’t apologize for comments such as “Let’s take a walk” to an individual in a wheelchair or “Do you see my point?” to a person with a visual impairment
• Do remember that communications skills are often an inaccurate measure of the intelligence, ability or confidence of an individual with a speech or hearing problem
• Don’t patronize the applicant with a disability with your own body language
• Don’t make assumptions about the applicant’s ability to do the job, you’ve already screened them based on their resume and that means they have the qualifications you want, or you wouldn’t have interviewed them
Questions Not Permitted
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) forbids questions about one’s disability, such as:
• How did you become disabled?
• Are you in good health?
• Have you recovered from your prior disability?
• How much can you lift? (If the job does not require lifting or it can be accommodated)
• How far can you walk? (If the job does not require walking or it can be accommodated)
• Have you been in a wheelchair your whole life?
• Do you have a driver’s license? (If the job doesn’t require driving or if a reasonable accommodation can’t eliminate the driving)
• Does your wife, husband, child, or roommate have a disability?
• Who takes care of your disabled husband (or wife or child)?
• Have you ever been injured in an accident?
• Have you ever filed a claim for workers’ compensation?
• How were you burned?
• Do you have any physical conditions that would prevent you from doing your job?
• Do you have a good back?
• Have you ever been hospitalized?
• What was your attendance like at your previous job?
• Did you ever take leave for medical treatment?
Questions You Can Ask about Essential Functions
• Do you have any reason to believe you would have difficulty performing any of the essential job duties?
• Do you have any reason to believe you would have difficulty meeting the company work schedule?
• Would you please explain how you would perform this essential job duty? (When an observable disability raises doubt)
• Upon stating attendance requirements, the employer may ask if applicant will have any trouble meeting them
Acceptable Interview Questions
• The job you are applying for requires lifting 5 pounds from the floor to a table several times each hour. Are you able to do that?
• Have you held a job like this in the past and were you able to perform all of the duties?
• Can you explain (or show me) how you would move files from the file room to the front desk?
• This job requires that you drive to the blood bank twice a day. Could you do that and do you have a valid driver’s license?
• We start our workday at 8 AM. Would you be able to get to work on time?
• Are you currently using illegal drugs?
• Are you able to climb a ladder? (if this is an essential job function)
• How would you reach the top drawer of the file cabinet from your wheelchair?
• Are you able to work around flashing lights?
• Can you work around dusty conditions?
• Show me how you would do…….(an essential job function)?
• Explain how you would do…….(an essential job function)?
• Would you be able to keep up with the production standards for this position?
• This is a high-pressure position with many deadlines, a loud work environment and lots of constant activity. Can you work under these conditions?
• Here is the job description. Can you do the essential functions of the job with or without a reasonable accommodation?
Reasonable accommodations are any change in the work environment, or in the way work is customarily performed that enables an individual with a disability to enjoy equal employment opportunity. Most reasonable accommodations cost less than $500 and the applicant or employee must request them. Mention of a reasonable accommodation during the interview should play no role in hiring. Employers should consider a central HR fund to cover the costs.
Categories of reasonable accommodations include:
1. Modifications or adjustments to the job application process that enables consideration for employment of a qualified applicant with a disability.
2. Modifications or adjustments to the work environment, or to the manor or circumstances under which the position is customarily performed, that enable a qualified individual with a disability to perform the essential functions of that position.
3. Modifications or adjustments that enable employees with a disability, to enjoy equal benefits and privileges of employment as other similarly situated employees without disabilities enjoy.
Reasonable accommodations can include job restructuring, part-time or modified work schedules, reassignment to a vacant position, acquisition, or modification of equipment or devices, appropriate adjustment or modification of examinations, training materials or policies, the provision of qualified readers or interpreters and other similar accommodations for individuals with disabilities.
Is the Accommodation Reasonable?
• How much does the accommodation cost in relationship to the size and budget of the business?
• Are there tax credits or deductions or outside funding sources to pay for the accommodation?
• Does the accommodation interfere with the operation of the business or the ability of other employees to perform their duties?
• If it is not reasonable, the employer does not have to accommodate.