What Does a Recruiter Need to Know about Hiring People with Disabilities?


By: Edward Crenshaw, CEO at DESTIN Enterprises, LLC.

There are a plethora of issues to consider when hiring people with various disabilities and special needs that can set the tone for a ‘quality’ hire and help create a healthy and mutually beneficial employer-employee relationship - one thing for sure; the initial process generally begins with the first impressions established with the organization’s recruiting efforts. The primary role of the ‘modern-day’ corporate recruiter is to administer a fair and respectful recruiting and hiring process that ensures a substantial infusion of qualified diverse talent within all ranks of the organization. As the initial contact for the organization, corporate recruiters must also embody the organization’s core values of professionalism and fairness and exercise all of their efforts within the framework of compliance regulations. They must also employ effective communication skills, possess a high aptitude of cultural competency, utilize problem-solving skills towards accommodations and intimately understand the value of patience with varying physical/hidden challenges and personality types.

To survive and thrive in a competitive corporate landscape, it is imperative for organizations to proactively keep up with the changing demographic and economic trends of society. Sustaining a ‘competitive-edge’ often requires understanding the diversity business case, recognizing the unique needs of diverse consumers and being driven to best reflect its multi-cultural expressions. At 20% of the US population, people with disabilities encompass the largest and fastest growing diversity demographic and reflects a significant block of consumer spending at $2 billion. “Disability” transcends other minority groups to include all races, genders, sexual preferences, religious backgrounds, ages, etc., and stands to significantly increase with the surging numbers of retirement aged workers maintaining employment, along with combat- exposed veterans that may consequently have significant injuries and debilitating health conditions. All of these issues make the organization’s recruiter contributions vital towards the organizations journey towards success. The following 5 best practices should be considered for all organization recruiters towards interacting, communicating and competitively securing highly valued diverse disability talent.

1. Understand the General Nature of Disabilities

Most HR, diversity, EEO and corporate recruiter professionals have no formal medical training; however, it is necessary for all organization representatives involved in the corporate hiring process to have a universal orientation towards the nature of various physical/hidden and combat-related conditions. As example, it is naïve at best to assume that all organization recruiters have an adequate understanding of certain chronic and/or debilitating hidden conditions such as: Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Asperger’s, Tourette syndrome, Traumatic Brain Injury and/or Crohn’s disease. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does not require a candidate to proactively disclose their individual health condition or medical challenges. Therefore, it is difficult for an organization to completely ensure a fair assessment and unbiased recruiting process without providing specialized disability training to its recruiters and other employees. Without a minimal universal Lehman’s understanding of the basic causes, manifestations, symptoms, medication effects, environmental triggers, etc., many recruiting professionals could easily and unintentionally subscribe to a natural a fear of the unknown by demonstrating a sense of severe discomfort to a strange or bizarre action from the candidate during the recruitment process. This unfortunate dilemma can lead to formulating an unfair or prejudicial opinion towards a highly qualified candidate (often based on misconceptions), condescending to a candidate, making unfair hiring decisions, subjecting a person to harmful social environmental triggers, asking improper and intrusive questions, conveying offensive or poor etiquette, enforcing harmful stigma and/or exhibiting an improper reaction to a person’s medical symptoms or medication effect. In 2011, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) received a record 99,947 charges of employment discrimination and obtained $455.6 million in relief through its administrative program and litigation efforts. Providing a specialized survey analysis can reveal the possible gap areas regarding disability competency among personnel. This valuable data (and other available metrics) can suggest areas for a customized training solution that will measurably address the issue.

2. No Favors, No Charity!

Organization recruiter personnel must understand that opening the corporate door to actively recruit and hire qualified people with disabilities may be altruistic in nature, but in no means should it be considered to be performing a civic favor. People with disabilities are generally highly productive and driven individuals. In many cases, they have had to prove themselves equally capable as their counterparts in society at large. Recruiters must understand that hiring a person with a disability will not represent a loss in productivity, will not cause an increase in absenteeism/turnover, they won’t drive the cost for insurance liability or reasonable accommodations, and neither will they disrupt customer service contact.

Quite the opposite, many consumers are stakeholders (spouse, relatives, friends, etc.) of deserving veterans and people with disabilities and most prefer to do business with a “disability friendly” organization. Many people with disabilities have developed highly sought technical skills and do much of their shopping via the Internet. They also have keen insights towards the issues that appeal to other disability consumers and professionals.

3. Be an Advocate for In-house Support and Intervention Programs

Corporate HR recruiters have a great opportunity to appeal to more highly sought candidates with disabilities by demonstrating a personal knowledge and passion for disability awareness and introducing in-house support programs and intervention methodologies. The current unemployment rate for people with disabilities in the US is very high at 70%; consequently, most candidates with disabilities have an extraordinary desire to succeed on employment opportunities. Organization support programs such as focus groups and mentorship programs can have a significant factor towards enhancing the probability for success. Intervention programs such as: exercise benefits, suicide prevention, personal finance management, healthy food alternatives and other similar programs, can provide an opportunity to enhance personal well-being and may sustain a positive trajectory toward success. These types of corporate initiatives are generally inexpensive, but they symbolize an organizational interest in employee development and an investment in employees that is often rewarded in greater productivity, positive morale and greater employee loyalty. Organizational support programs should be measured for quality and all formal employee suggestions and other feedback should get the attention of corporate diversity professionals and other executive level officers. These efforts help to make diverse employees feel valued and included in corporate decisions.

4. Make it a Family Affair

Many HR recruiters can effectively enhance the opportunity for success and retention of employees with disabilities by understanding the value of family and stakeholders within the workplace. If multiple recruiting and employment opportunities exist, recruiters should formally ask the potential employee with disabilities if a spouse, family worker, or fellow transitioning military buddy would be interested. This includes providing a formal incentive program for other employment referrals. Studies suggest that employees that work with their neighbors, alums, spouse, or other individual with a personal relationship to the employee are likely to have a more vested interest in the company and are less likely to quit. Employees with disabilities will have a personal support system with people whom they trust and feel comfortable with.

5. Work Towards Establishing Trust

Every corporate recruiter should understand the value of establishing trust with potential employees. In many cases, the employee candidate is applying just as much scrutiny in evaluating the organization as the employee is evaluating the candidate. Integrity, honesty and ethics are critically important when making a first impression on people with disabilities and transitioning military veterans. For many military veterans, the bonds and relationships with other fellow veterans are arguably as strong as many marital relationships. These veterans live by a brotherhood code and have shared valuable periods of their lives other veterans in the most trying of situations. In many circumstances, they have shared intimate personal information with each other, performed risky endeavors for love of country and are prepared to sacrifice their lives for their fellow military comrades. Going into a new civilian work environment can often feel as foreign and uncomfortable to a veteran as going into a war zone. Operating in todays’ unpredictable and asymmetrical warfare environment can condition a military veteran to developing a strong sense of discomfort and intolerance to false promises and unclear circumstances. Unfortunately, the well-documented cases of military sexual assault within the military have also conditioned some military veterans to be wary of people in authority positions that may subtly emanate a suggestive or overt sexual tone, or for individuals that may substantially violate a person’s personal space.

HR recruiters that may intentionally or unintentionally misrepresent their organization may open themselves to losing personal/professional credibility and may tarnish the integrity of the organization with their actions and lack of cultural competency. As an example, if a military recruiter refers to a person in a Marine uniform as a “soldier”, they may unintentionally lose credibility as an effective recruiter of military veterans for their blatant lack of knowledge towards the individual professional identity, professional experience, military traditions and other particular needs in the workplace. If the recruiter makes a mistake in etiquette with a military veteran or a person with a disability, it is important for the person to personally and immediately apologize and not to blame anyone or anything for their mistake. People are far more likely to forgive in circumstances where a person was unaware of the mistake opposed to covering it up. Lastly, at no time should the recruiter engage in slander about management or any other employee/potential employee, as it represents poor professionalism, bad taste, poor ethics and demonstrates a tone of what is to be expected with their new experience from other employees.

These various HR recruiter best practice tips can make the difference with recruiting military veterans and people with disabilities. Often times employing a third party organization to execute an organizational survey analysis and/or implement a specialized training program can make employees feel more comfortable expressing their true concerns about the organization.



Ed Crenshaw is a US Navy veteran, diversity practitioner, disability subject matter expert and creator of the innovative “Preparing Employers to Reintegrate Combat Exposed Veterans with Disabilities” (P.E.R.C.E.V.D.) diversity-training program. He is also the author of the books, “The P.E.R.C.E.V.D. Principles” and “The Employers Guide to Understanding Hidden Conditions Related to Suicide.” As a well-renown professional speaker, Ed is a passionate champion and respected advocate for people with disabilities. http://www.destinenterprises.net/