Stuart Gentle Publisher at Onrec

Making online recruitment more accessible

With the ongoing skills shortage continuing to present a sizeable challenge to recruitment professionals, the UN’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities (3 December) is a helpful reminder of the need to make our recruitment practices and tools as accessible and disability-friendly as possible.

Having been the CEO of a FTSE 200 global recruitment company for over 17 years and a wheelchair user for the last four, this is a subject that is close to my heart.

1 in 4 people in the UK have a disability, yet the employment rate for disabled people remains stubbornly low – around 50 per cent. There are many reasons for this. Misconceptions about disability is one. Having a disability can be seen as a ‘weakness’ when in reality being disabled has given me increased resilience, drive, innovative skills and self-awareness – all of which are qualities that companies look for when describing candidates they want to hire.

It is a self-assessment, but I believe that I was a better CEO after I became disabled than I was before. In my last four years from 2019, we had record years at PageGroup – the exception being the pandemic year of 2020, which was of course a difficult year for many CEOs. But even then, my disability made me more determined in the decisions we made and it resulted in us bouncing back with a record year in 2021!

Another myth is that making things work for disabled people is both difficult and costly. Findings from Business Disability Forum’s Great Big Workplace Adjustments Survey 2023 show that only 19 per cent of managers feel that it is easy to make adjustments for disabled employees, for example, and in earlier research from Leonard Cheshire, 69 per cent of employers cited cost as a prohibitor. I would argue that whilst developing accessible processes does require commitment, there is a significant pay-off for everyone.

At PageGroup, we added an accessibility toolbar to all our websites globally, which made them easier to use particularly for clients with visual impairments, learning disabilities and neurodiverse conditions. The result was a noticeable increase in applications. Business Disability Forum describes this as the ‘why not’ argument. In short, the benefits of accessibility and inclusion far out way the time and effort involved, so why not do it?

I’ve explained some of the reasons why accessible recruitment is so important but as an online recruiter what are the practical steps you can take that will make a difference. Here are four:

1. Make sure your application portals are accessible and inclusive.

Check that any portals you use work with assistive technology like Screen readers. Screen readers are used by many disabled people including people who are blind or who have sight loss as well as some people who have learning disabilities and dyslexia.  Consider accessible design features too, such as font style and size, colour contrast and text descriptors of imagery for anyone who cannot see it.

Also, make sure the images and case studies you use in your attraction strategy include disabled people, so disabled candidates know that they are welcome.

If you use any algorithms to automatically sift candidates, check that they do not automatically reject candidate who have gaps in their CVs or do not have set qualifications.

Give people a choice over how they contact you and apply. Some people may find online portals difficult to use.  

2. Consider how you use online assessments

Provide information and clear instructions about any online assessments in advance and make everyone aware that adjustments, such as extra time, are available. Remember that a person’s disability may not be immediately visible.

Timed tests can cause undue stress and anxiety for some people and may also not be an accurate reflection of the actual job. Consider whether they are needed.

Beware of possible bias within any AI being used. Do not disadvantage people who do not make eye contact, have a facial difference or who stammer, for example.

3. Provide choice over interview platforms

Give candidates an opportunity to test any platforms in advance of the interview and, if possible, allow candidates to choose the platform.

4. Share your learnings with others

Finally, be willing to share your learnings about accessible recruitment with colleagues and peers. Business Disability Forum Disability Smart Awards 2024 are now open for entries. The awards are free to enter and open to organisations of any size. They are an opportunity to challenge thinking on disability inclusion and to learn from the best practice on offer. Why not consider entering the Inclusive Recruitment category?

The benefits of widening the talent pool and hiring a more diverse workforce are endless. As a recruiter, accessible and inclusive recruitment is a win-win.

Steve Ingham CBE is Chair of Business Disability Forum