Neil Barnett, Microsoft Director of Accessibility with Susan Lang, Founding CEO of Lime Connect
October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), a time to celebrate the contributions of America’s workers with disabilities, past and present, while working to achieve parity with this year’s theme “Disability: Part of the Equity Equation.”
At Microsoft, we believe people with disabilities positively impact our company culture, working environment and how we serve our customers. Through partnerships within the disability community, we’re working to help reduce the unemployment rate for people with disabilities around the globe. To date, we’ve hosted Neurodiversity Hiring events, created an inclusive interview process, trained and educated our teams on disability etiquette, and provided a range of interview accommodations to increase the diversity of our teams, and positively impact the culture of our workplace.
However, there’s much more to do. I recently spoke with Susan Lang, Founding CEO of Lime Connect, the largest network globally of high-potential university students and professionals who have disabilities. Susan and I are sharing our answers to the ‘top 5 most common questions’ from jobseekers.
1. What should I look for in an inclusive employer for people with disabilities?
Susan Lang: Finding the right company can be just as important as finding the right role for your skills and experience. To get a better understanding of a company’s culture and how they view disability inclusion you can find out a lot on their website. Look for representation of employees with disabilities and any information on employee resource groups for people with disabilities. Does their diversity statement include disability? If you are applying for a role on their careers site, is it easy to find information regarding how to receive interview accommodations?
Neil Barnett: Many employers have hiring programs specifically for neurodiverse candidates or candidates with disabilities. To find lists of employers focused on disability inclusion, look for partnership with organizations like Lime Connect & Disability:IN. We share the latest news about accessibility at Microsoft and resources to learn more about our hiring programs on the Microsoft Accessibility site.
2. What accommodations can I request for an interview?
Susan Lang: It’s helpful to first find out as much as possible about the interview structure. This includes the number of interviews in a day, length of interview(s), types of questions (behavioral, technical), and format –phone, video call or in-person. Ask the recruiter questions so you have a better idea of what to expect. Having this information will help you identify what accommodations to request that will enable you to focus on demonstrating your skills, strengths, and fit for the position.
Neil Barnett: We want you to shine in interviews so at Microsoft we engage in an interactive process with the candidate to determine effective, reasonable accommodations. We strive for our candidates to feel set up for success so they can have a barrier free experience sharing their skills and experience. Some of the most common accommodation requests we receive include extra time for interviews, less interviews in a day, being able to utilize your own device, longer breaks between interviews, extended time for online technical screens, sign language interpreters and CART/Captions.
3. Why would I want to request an accommodation when applying for a job?
Susan Lang: It’s about success on both sides of the equation. Requesting accommodations during the screening and interview stage sets you up for success during the process and allows you to focus on sharing your skills and abilities without having to worry about having your needs met. The employer shows they are invested in you, and they want you to succeed. It’s a good opportunity to assess your potential employer and how supportive they will be for employees with disabilities in the workplace.
Neil Barnett: Interviewing is a two-way process. By offering an accommodation during the screening and interview process, the employer is showing that they are invested in you and they want you to succeed. It’s a good opportunity to assess your potential employer and how supportive they will be for employees with disabilities in the workplace. During a recent Ability Summit session, Employing Disabled Talent: An opportunity to stop the talent drain, two Microsoft employees shared their experience requesting accommodation during the application stage.
“I would advise the candidate not to be shy. I always say that the disability is not so much in the person, as in the environment. Companies must have a commitment to create an accessible environment for all employees and candidates. Never hesitate to ask for the accommodation that you need.”
– Juanjo Montiel, Senior Software Engineer, Microsoft
4. Do I have to disclose my disability or provide paperwork to request accommodation for interviews?
Susan Lang: Each employer may have a different process or ask for different forms of documentation. As a member of the Lime Network, you can schedule an appointment with a Career Coach to discuss whether disclosure is right for you and develop an action plan to navigate the accommodation request process with each company and throughout your career search.
Neil Barnett: When applying to Microsoft, you do not need to disclose specifics about your disability when requesting accommodations, but it’s important to identify your needs, so the interview teams can provide a collaborative and inclusive experience. Microsoft does not require that you disclose your disability or provide medical documentation for interview accommodations.
5. How and when should I disclose/talk about my disability during an interview?
Susan Lang: Once you’ve determined that you will disclose your disability, the timing of the communication will often depend on the reason you are disclosing. If you need to request an accommodation for an interview, you will want to have that conversation well in advance of the interview to ensure there is time to get the accommodation in place. If you are looking for an opportunity to highlight an accomplishment or the skills you have developed as a result of living with your disability, you may look for a question during the interview itself that allows you to share those examples. Regardless of the reason, you only need to share the details about your disability that are most relevant to the conversation and remember to keep it simple. If you are requesting an accommodation, focus on identifying your needs and highlighting tools or accommodations that work for you in other settings. You likely know what works best for you and can work collaboratively with your prospective employer to come up with solutions that lead to your success. We love the use of metaphors or stories when disclosing, and don’t forget to practice your disclosure conversation with a friend or a Lime Connect career coach so that you feel confident navigating any discussion about your disability.
Neil Barnett: Deciding whether to disclose your disability is a personal choice. As a person with a disability, you bring unique strengths and skills to your future employer. You may also have experiences or perspectives that help inform how to make products, services, and companies more accessible, which would be a value add to any company.
If you are interested in learning more about working at Microsoft, you can join one of our monthly Inclusive Hiring webinars. Each webinar is hosted by recruiters and members of the Microsoft Inclusive Hiring team and focuses on the hiring application process and requesting interview accommodations. Attendees also have a chance to hear from members of the Microsoft disability employee resource group (ERG), on what it’s like to work at Microsoft. Register by visiting aka.ms/InclusiveHiringWebinar.
And, university students and professionals with all disabilities are encouraged to check out Lime Connect’s site and join The Lime Network to access a full range of programs and services that provide tools, self-confidence, community, and connections that help disabled individuals achieve their dreams.
To ensure that disability is part of broader equity discussions and efforts, it will take an accelerated commitment from all corners, the business community, government agencies, service providers and nonprofits to work towards ultimately improve disability representation in the workforce.