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Labor/Employment

Oct. 26, 2022

Inclusive and unbiased job postings

Including disabled professionals in our employment efforts is our moral obligation, professional responsibility, and legal obligation under the Americans with Disabilities Act and other civil rights laws.

Areta Guthrey

Director, The Disability Information Network.

Employment is an enormous subject; this article explores how to increase hiring efforts to include more people with disabilities in our legal institutions and offices by placing appropriate advertisements for employees. An associated article on the unemployment issues and statistics for people with disabilities, titled "

We have to recognize that wasting talent and potential due to misperceptions about people with disabilities and their working abilities harms all of us. Including disabled professionals in our employment efforts is our moral obligation, professional responsibility, and legal obligation under the Americans with Disabilities Act and other civil rights laws.

An appropriate and inclusive job announcement should be free of the physical, social, and emotional biases that are often included in legal ads. The ADA allows employers to list requirements that are necessary for essential job functions. However, the ADA prohibits job postings that tend to discourage people with disabilities from applying. Discouraging disabled applicants is a common occurrence in legal job postings.

What to Include as Essential Job Functions?

A recent advertisement for a Program Analyst with the California Bar's Office of Diversity and Inclusion shows how biased and exclusionary job postings can be.

The Program Analyst is described as "the professional class performing analysis and technical assistance." A person with a disability may see this ad and believe that she is fully qualified to perform the essential functions of this job, but would be discouraged from applying after reading the list of physical requirements contained in the ad which read:

"An applicant must:

Sit for extended periods of time.

Make fine visual distinctions upon proofreading written document and viewing information on a computer screen.

Ability to lift up to 25 pounds.

Possess visual capability and digital dexterity to operate a computer and other standard office equipment.

Digital dexterity to assemble, retrieve and replace files.

Frequent and ongoing use of a telephone and computer terminal."

These requirements reveal an ignorance of disability and our skills that is hard to justify in 2022. None of these "requirements" are essential to working as a lawyer. Even if they were, the accommodations are so simple that they would be reasonable under the ADA and the bar would have to provide them to a qualified candidate.

Why would it be necessary to sit for long periods of time? What cannot be accomplished with a sit/stand desk? Why can't applicants walk around the office while they think? Voice recognition software means that none of us needs to sit and type all the time.

The repeated references to visual abilities are very disturbing. There is nothing about analyzing policy that requires sight. There is a wide range of software and hardware that makes proofreading and viewing information on a screen unnecessary. When vision is not essential to the job, demands of visual acuity are unlawful.

When was the last time that an attorney was required to lift 25 pounds? The heaviest file box in my office weighs less than 18 pounds. When it needs to be moved, I ask someone to move it for me. This simple and no-cost accommodation negates the necessity for an employee to lift 25 pounds. A small cart is also a possibility. Including this requirement clearly discourages wheelchair users and others with mobility issues, as well as people with arthritis and other strength or pain issues.

Visual acuity and digital dexterity have nothing to do with a person's ability to think and provide advice. The suggestion that we must have full use of our eyes and fingers to operate standard office equipment is uniformed and discriminatory.

This type of job posting is discouraging to all people with disabilities because none of us wants to work in an environment that is biased and exclusionary even if we can meet the listed requirements. Once employed, people with disabilities experience high levels of toxicity in law firms and courtrooms. This ad is a clear signal that this office would be toxic.

Building a Better Job Posting: Avoiding Boilerplate

We have to build a new vision of what it means to be a lawyer, making the highest and best use of everyone's skills and abilities. This means hiring and retaining people with disabilities. Boilerplate statements such as "We encourage people with disabilities to apply" aren't enough, and they won't protect you from allegations of discrimination. If the job posting has language that is discouraging, the statement won't mean much.

One type of job posting which is common in the legal environment is particularly off-putting for many people: "Seeking energetic candidate for dynamic workplace with friendly co-workers..." I am so discouraged by these statements that no disclaimer would encourage me to apply.

I am bipolar, so my energy levels vary. While I am able to work at a steady pace, endless days and nights of work are simply not possible. Rest and good nutrition are vital to my health. "Energetic" is a negative for me. Instead, put the actual hours necessary to do the job so we can decide for ourselves if we want to apply.

I am also autistic and introverted, so "dynamic" and "social" don't appeal to me. I am not a particularly social animal in the law firm sense. I have friends and I like a good game night. But hanging out after hours with coworkers, instead of being home with my family, has no appeal for me. It's also not an essential job function.

At one job, my supervisor called me into his office where the managing attorney was waiting. First I was told that my work was good. Then, I was told that good work wasn't enough; "socializing" (drinking) with the other lawyers was a required part of my job. I tried to fit in, but wound up leaving the firm, taking my skills as an experienced researcher and writer with me.

Standardized statements are discouraging, and don't make the employer sound inclusive. "We are an equal opportunity employer" has no meaning when the demographics of the workplace say otherwise. "Ask if you need accommodations" also makes it immediately obvious that the employer doesn't really understand our community, and hasn't given much thought to the hiring process.

Better Postings: Give It Some Thought

Rethink your posts; show applicants that you are sincere. Instead of "equal opportunity employer," be specific about what you have done to give people equal opportunities. "We have a diversity committee," "we have regular presentations on diversity and inclusion," "our human resources people are trained in bias and disability issues."

Show a commitment to providing reasonable and appropriate accommodations. Include language which shows you've given the matter some serious thought, such as:

The following accommodations are available. Please let us know if you need an accommodation that isn't listed here:

ASL interpreters

Captions

Screen readers

Our built environment has been certified to be ADA accessible (not just compliant)

Our IT department ensures that all of our web content is accessible

Voice to text software

Honesty and flexibility are key. Let applicants know what you expect, and be open to shifting your perceptions of the job. Ask us what we need and listen to the answers. Don't be afraid of having to accommodate an employee. Many accommodations are simple and inexpensive or have no costs at all.

A larger and more diverse pool of candidates is an advantage for inclusive employers. More inclusive employers are a benefit for people with disabilities. Let's work together.

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