What if a Job Candidate Has a Visible Disability?

You’ve posted your higher education job and screened hundreds of applications. After a long day of interviews, you invite your final candidate into the room. She arrives in a wheelchair with a large cast on her leg. What do you do?

  1. Drop your jaw and ask, “What happened to you?”
  2. Stammer and ask, “Are you always in a wheelchair?”
  3. Tell her hello and introduce her to the members of the interview panel, then start the interview.

The answer, of course is C. If she says something during the interview such as, “I just had knee surgery, and after some physical therapy, I will be as good as new,” acknowledge her statement with a nod and continue with the interview. While it may seem polite to show interest in her medical condition, especially since she brought it up, you don’t want to set yourself up for a situation in which she can make the accusation that you rejected her for the position because of a real or imaginary disability. Under ADA, a person doesn’t need to actually have a disability to claim discrimination; she merely needs to show that the employer treated her differently because the employer thought she had a disability.

Ask the candidate the same questions you ask the other candidates. You can ask if she can perform the essential functions with or without accommodation, as long as you ask the other candidates. You can ask her to demonstrate how she will do a job, as long as the other candidates are asked the same thing. If she says she will need accommodation, you can ask about the type of accommodation needed.

In short, treat the applicant just as you would an applicant without a visible disability, and you will not be in violation of the law.

Dindy Robinson is Director of Compensation at Texas Christian University, Fort Worth, Texas.

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