If you want to make recruitment more accessible, write better job descriptions

by August Pritchett

Young man in a wheelchair looks back at us with has hands outstretched as if to say,

At what point is a potential employee's needed accommodations too much for an employer? Not knowing if an employer will make an exception to some physical requirements can deter disabled people from applying.


©bmphotolab / Adobe Stock

Become a Patron!

Finding employment is hard for anyone unless you somehow are lucky enough to have connections who can get you work, or you vow to sacrifice your first-born child to the job gods. For disabled people, though, there’s an extra layer to the challenge: finding an occupation that’ll actually work with the disability.

How can we make recruitment more accessible?

Thanks to the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), people with disabilities have the same rights as their abled counterparts, including the right to employment. This means that businesses can’t discriminate against them. In fact, many establishments say they’re equal-opportunity employers, meaning that they won’t not hire anyone based on sex, gender identity, race/ethnicity, sexuality, age, and, yes, disability. Also, they say they’ll offer any needed accommodations. But would these places really hire disabled people?

For many entry-level jobs, which don’t require a degree, employers often list physical requirements in their job descriptions. The two most common are the ability to carry and move a certain number of pounds, usually around 20 to 30, and a valid driver’s license.

While it makes sense for retail stores to want an employee to be able to move heavy boxes of merchandise, listing it in the job description can deter some people with disabilities from applying. Of course, employers shouldn’t leave it out, since it’s something that the job does entail, but many of us can’t lift that much (I can lift only about 3-4 pounds with my t-rex arms). However, everything else is doable, depending on the disability. Ringing people up at the cash register? Check. Shelving items in areas you can reach? Check. Stalking customers, asking if they need any help? Check. Chasing people down a mall corridor to ask if they want a sample? Check.

Businesses wanting employees to have the ability to carry a minimum number of pounds can offer accommodations to help you do the job. However, even though the equal-opportunity statement says they will, there’s the question of to what extent they’ll accommodate. At what point is the potential employee’s needed accommodations too much for them? Not knowing if an employer will make an exception to some physical requirements can deter disabled people from applying.

Having a valid driver’s license is another requirement that also deters some disabled people from applying, for obvious reasons. Disabilities such as blindness and paralysis mean that the individual is unable to operate a car safely. Of course, modifications exist. However, modifications are often expensive and having the means to pay for them get tricky. Having no money is the reason you’re looking for a job, after all. Even then, cars are just plain expensive.

A valid driver’s license indicates that the job will require some local travel. In some instances, this is unavoidable, like a pizza delivery person. For some other occupations, like something related to sales, driving is just an element of the job. An applicant with a disability could be qualified to do all the other tasks since they’re located in an office setting, but the driver’s license requirement is the thing that makes the applicant move on to look for other open positions. One thing businesses could do is explain the tasks that a valid license requires in a way that helps the disabled individual get an idea if it would be realistic for the employer to make accommodations, like making an exception to the driving around.

Going off the subject of a valid license (or should I say, driving away? Ha! Okay, I can hear all the groans now), many jobs require traveling. Of course, it’s possible for disabled people to travel. For many of us, though, traveling is a huge ordeal. Accessible transportation, appropriate lodgings, making sure all the medical supplies and equipment comes with us, and in one piece (seriously, there are so many horror stories of airline employees breaking wheelchairs), a lot of planning goes into taking a trip. There’s no such thing as a spontaneous Vegas excursion for most disabled people. In addition, depending on the disability, a caretaker must accompany them.

Read more: Can one honest conversation about mental health at work change anything?

When a job description says travel is involved, it leaves a lot of questions. How far is the travel? It could be across state, across the country, or across the world. How often must the person travel? A couple to a small handful of trips a year could be realistic, but frequent trips could be too much. Would the employer make sure there are reasonable accommodations? Making them takes a lot of effort. If a caretaker is required, would the employer pay for their expenses? It would be a big thing to ask, considering the costs can be high, and the caretaker or disabled person might not be able to cover it on their own.

If you want to make recruitment more accessible, write better job descriptions

Not only could disabled people be missing out on good job opportunities, but businesses could be missing out on outstanding employees. Job descriptions could be improved by indicating the importance of the requirements mentioned above. In many cases, there are aspects that employers like, but aren’t a total requirement, just giving applicants an extra edge if they have them. Why not have these requirements listed as bonus points instead?

Descriptions would be more helpful if they indicated what sort of accommodations for disabled people the businesses are willing to make. Saying that they’re equal-opportunity and willing to work with disabled people is good, but vague. Even though there are a plethora of accommodations out there, mentioning a few the business can do would be an excellent way for applicants to gauge if they can do the and is it worth applying.

If job descriptions were more explicit in their physical requirements, disabled people would be more likely to apply. Then, perhaps, the unemployment statistics would change for the disabled community.

Become a Patron!


Portrait photo of August Pritchett. August is sitting in a wheel chair. They are wearing a white dress with a red flower print.
Article by August Pritchett

August Pritchett is a disability advocate, a young adult historical fiction writer, obsessed with the 19th and early 20th centuries. 



Click here to read our Comment Policy