Disabled job applicant: Approach gingerly

At times, a disabled job applicant can put you smack in the middle in your effort to decide what's right, what's legal, and what's allowable. Also, disabled or not, you want to give qualified candidates a fair chance at the job.
By Raymond Dreyfack February 1, 1999

At times, a disabled job applicant can put you smack in the middle in your effort to decide what’s right, what’s legal, and what’s allowable. Also, disabled or not, you want to give qualified candidates a fair chance at the job. At the same time you must keep in mind that you’re responsible for your department’s productivity and bottom line performance.

When George Clement, a planning engineer, answered a help wanted ad he was screened by personnel and sent to the plant engineering department to be interviewed. Plant Engineer Ed Gilcrist was tied up at a meeting and delegated that task to Harry Fairchild, his assistant.

Reviewing his application form and resume Fairchild judged the applicant to be qualified, but he had one reservation. Clement, who wore thick glasses, apparently had very poor vision.

Fairchild asked, “Since you will be spending much of your time at a computer monitor, won’t your vision impair your performance and make you susceptible to errors?”

“Not at all,” Clement replied.

Fairchild still wasn’t satisfied. “Will you need any special accommodation because of your vision?”

“None other than a bright light at my workstation.”

“Just how bad is your vision? Are there any further corrective measures you could take?”

The questions angered the applicant. “I can handle the job. That’s all you need to know under the law.”

The response took Fairchild aback. He wanted to hire the man, but was afraid to take an initiative that might backfire.

“I’d like Ed Gilcrist to see you. He’ll be available in an hour if you want to hang around or you can come back.”

“I’ll wait,” Clement said.

Question: In Fairchild’s place, would you hire Clement?

Gilcrist’s decision: When the plant engineer returned, Fairchild filled him in on his interview with Clement.

The executive examined his resume. “Interviewing a disabled person can be touchy at times,” Gilcrist conceded. “You did the right thing holding him off if uncertain. Asking him if his vision would impair his job performance or require special accommodation were proper questions. Probing details of his disability was in violation of recent Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guidelines issued by the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC). When a disabled person affirms his disability will not impair his performance you have to take him at his word. Send the applicant to my office. I’ll probably hire him.”

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