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How to recruit and interview candidates with intellectual and developmental disabilities

By Serena Kappes

Read Part 1 of our series on hiring people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) to learn what IDD is, and why your company should have an IDD inclusion plan.

There are many benefits to hiring candidates with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). 

Companies looking to expand their hiring pools can see excellent returns by building a strong recruiting and hiring process for people with IDD. And studies have shown this talent pool to be motivated and high-performing.

So how can your company get started?

Here are some tips for businesses looking to recruit and interview candidates with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD).

How to recruit candidates with intellectual and developmental disabilities

To connect with talented candidates with IDD, employers can build relationships with outside partners. Options include job placement services, nonprofit organizations, and vocational rehabilitation (VR) agencies.

“The employer has to take the time to figure out where the resources are,” says disability inclusion expert Debra Ruh. “They can be resources that are provided as state agencies or federal agencies where our taxes cover that. Or you can hire consultants that will bring you qualified candidates.” 

Each state in the U.S. has a designated VR agency that can help employees with disabilities reach their employment goals. Services include:

  • Job counseling and referrals

  • Vocational training and other training

  • Physical and mental rehabilitation

Kevin Bradley, senior advisor for global inclusion and diversity for Zebra Technologies, says, “My successful partnerships have been with the agencies that have carefully done some pre-screening and have a high level of confidence that the person will succeed in the job. They can be very meaningful partnerships.”

Bradley, who’s held diversity inclusion leadership roles at McDonald’s Corporation, Boeing, and Discover Financial Services, recommends that companies invite agencies to tour their facility to understand what potential roles their clients would be performing. That will help them think of candidates who could be a good fit.

How to interview candidates with intellectual and developmental disabilities

Start by setting the stage for interviewing success. Some candidates with IDD may have a job coach or liaison with them for interviews. Others won’t. But don’t forget that you’re interviewing the candidate — not the person who’s with them.

“The employer should expect most of the conversation is going to be with the candidates because they’re not hiring the job coach — they’re hiring the candidate,” says Ruh.

It’s a good idea to offer support to both job seekers and hiring managers. For example, financial services company Wells Fargo allows both job seekers with IDD and managers doing the interviewing to prepare for the interview process by: 

  • Welcoming candidates to request an accommodation for an interview on their company website

  • Providing training resources for managers and recruiters about interviewing people with disabilities

It’s also important to evaluate — and focus on — a candidate’s strengths. Just like with every interview process, hiring managers should go in with an open mind. “People with IDD are constantly underestimated,” says Ruh.

“An employer should be careful not to act on the basis of myths, fears, generalizations, or stereotypes,” says the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). “Instead, the employer should evaluate each individual on his knowledge, skills, experience, and the extent to which the intellectual disability affects his ability to work in a particular job.” 

So instead of thinking about what candidates with IDD can’t do, think of what they can do. “It’s OK for an employer to have expectations that the person with IDD that you want to hire is qualified to do the job,” says Ruh. “I think that we have a really bad habit of deciding that people with IDD can only do certain jobs.” 

Look at the candidate’s resume. Learn more about their skills. Find out what they’re interested in doing and excited about. “It’s about asking the person, ‘Would this be a good opportunity for you? Is this something you would enjoy doing? Will this play to your strengths?’” says Jose Garcia, senior vice president of national partnerships and programs for Wells Fargo.

Garcia gives an example of an employee with IDD who started in a part-time support role in the financial services company’s wealth and management group: “His responsibilities have continued to grow, and as he has learned the role he has become an integral part of that team.” 


This article is Part 2 of a three-part series on hiring people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD):

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