Interviewing People with Disability

The main purpose of any recruitment process is to find out whether an applicant has the skills and capability to undertake the “inherent or essential requirements” of the job. In order to ensure that potential applicants are able to make it through to the interview stage, the application must be accessible. This involves making application forms and other material available in accessible formats, an accessible website, and further information acknowledging workplace adjustments and your disability employment policy.

Many employers may not need to modify their current interviewing practices. In some cases, an applicant may not disclose their disability at the time of application in order to avoid potential discrimination. Because of this, it is recommended that all applicants proceeding to interview, not just those who advise they have disability, are asked whether they require any adjustments or assistance to participate in the interview.

For some people with disability, an interview may not be the best way to demonstrate their skills. Some may be nervous about interviews, particularly if they have been unemployed for some time. A person with disability may have the skills to perform the job but not interview well. In this instance, there are alternatives to consider. Adjustments may involve offering work for a contractual period, or an alternative means of assessing an applicant's suitability. This could include a work trial, or offering the applicant the opportunity to have a support person attend with them.

Interview preparation

If a candidate discloses their disability upon application, ask them what adjustments they may need for the interview. For example, a person with vision impairment may need detailed instructions and extra time to find the building. Your building and interview room need to be accessible, as do your processes. If any paper work needs to be completed during the interview, make sure they are available in alternative, accessible formats.

Types of questions

Members of recruitment and selection panels need to be disability aware and confident. Ask the applicant the same questions that you would anyone else. Ensure the questions address the inherent requirements or job essentials.

Use behavioural interview questions that are framed around the job essentials. This allows applicants to demonstrate where they gained their skills and abilities, regardless of the context. 

For example, instead of asking “describe your call centre experience”, ask “tell me about a time where you’ve solved a problem for a difficult customer”. This will allow an applicant to demonstrate they have the skills required for a customer service role.

What questions can I ask a person about their disability?

The only questions an employer can lawfully ask about a disability or injury relate to:

  • Any adjustments required to ensure a fair and equitable interview/selection process.
  • How the person will perform the inherent requirements of a job.
  • Any adjustments that may be required to complete the inherent requirements of the job.

Any other questions about an individual’s disability are inappropriate, including questions about:

  • How the individual acquired their disability
  • Specific details of the individual’s disability.
  • How the disability will impact ability to perform aspects of the role 

General interview etiquette

  • Don’t patronise people with disability. Treat adults as adults.
  • Don't be embarrassed if you use common expressions such as "see you later" to a person with vision impairment.
  • If you offer assistance, wait until the offer is accepted. Be prepared for your offer to be refused.
  • Use a normal tone of voice when extending a welcome. Do not raise your voice unless asked.
  • Speak directly to the person with disability, rather than through a companion, interpreter or aid if they are present.
  • Allow sufficient time for an applicant to respond to questions.
  • Never pretend to understand if you don’t. Instead, repeat what you have understood and allow the person to respond. The response will guide your communication.

Interviewing people with physical disability

  • Offer to shake hands even if they have limited hand use or wear an artificial limb. A left-hand shake is acceptable.
  • Never lean on a person's wheelchair as the chair is their personal space.

Interviewing people who are blind or have low vision

  • Allow a person with who is blind or has low vision to take your arm near the elbow to guide them rather than propel them.
  • Always identify yourself and others who may be with you.

Interviewing people who are deaf or hard of hearing

  • To gain attention, tap the person on the shoulder or wave your hand.
  • Look directly at the person.
  • For those that can read lips, face the light and keep your mouth clear when speaking.
  • Be aware of the impact of background noise for people who are hard of hearing.

Interviewing people with intellectual disability

  • Speak in a straightforward manner and check understanding.
  • Be patient and wait for the person to finish what they are saying.
  • Don’t pretend to understand the person if you don’t. Ask them to repeat what they have just said or to say it in another way (using different words, for instance).

Disability information sharing

There is no legal obligation for an employee to disclose a disability unless it is likely to affect their performance in a role. However, you should explain your workplaces’ diversity policies to applicants. This will assure them that your organisation actively encourages applicants from diverse backgrounds, and that it has an inclusive culture.