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Interviewing People with Disabilities

AHI, 8/28/02

Conducting a hiring interview is often enough to put a manager on edge. But add to that an applicant with an obvious disability, like a hearing impairment, and a manager may be overcome with apprehensions of not only selecting the best candidate possible, but also of steering clear of landing the company in an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) imbroglio.

Now hear this: One company was ordered to pay a hearing-impaired applicant five years in back pay and $300,000 in compensatory and punitive damages. The applicant, who has been "profoundly deaf" since birth, was interviewed on two separate occasions and given a medical exam. He was eventually offered the position of line mechanic only to have it rescinded before his start date.

The company cited safety reasons for its change of hiring heart. But the applicant was convinced discrimination was at play. So he filed an ADA lawsuit.

Finding in favor of the applicant, the court offered the following reasoning.

1) The company did not discuss what kinds of accommodation were necessary. Had it engaged in the interactive process, the company would have discovered that the applicant was able perform all of the essential job functions with or without accommodation, and was able to perform the described function of a line mechanic with "only a few and very minor exceptions."

2) The job description itself failed to show that tasks even utilized, let alone relied on, the ability to hear.

3) The applicant presented evidence that he could hear warnings and other sounds. Plus, due to his impairment, he was particularly sensitive to stimuli through his other senses. (Sprague v. United Airlines, Inc., D.C.MA, No. 97-12102-GAO, 2002)

Listen up!

Applicants with hearing impairments present a unique challenge to employers during the hiring interview. Keep the following tips in mind to help see that things go smoothly.

- Maintain eye contact with the applicant and speak directly to him/her, even if an interpreter is present. Use body language and facial expressions to help convey your message.

- When utilizing an interpreter, carry on the conversation as if you are speaking to the person with the hearing impairment, not the interpreter. Use the words "I" and "you." Don't say: "Tell him..." or "Does she understand?" to the interpreter.

- Ask open-ended questions to ensure effective communication. Avoid assuming that a nod by a hearing-impaired individual means he/she understands your message.

- Avoid pretending the disability doesn't exist. Instead, engage in the interactive process with the applicant to determine what accommodations are necessary, if any.


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