From the desk of Louis E. Orslene, MPIA, MSW, JAN Co-Director
In the workplace, employers increasingly use pre-employment testing to predict the employment success of their applicants. These tests are designed to overcome the hiring challenge articulated in a recent Forbes article stating: "Many job candidates give a good interview, but can they actually demonstrate the skills in order to do a great job before they get hired?"
With the recent implementation of new Section 503 regulations for federal contractors, the accessibility of pre-employment tests has come into question. Section 503 prohibits federal contractors and subcontractors from discriminating in employment against individuals with disabilities, and requires these employers to take affirmative action to recruit, hire, promote, and retain these individuals. Thus, if the pre-employment test design or testing process is not accessible for people with disabilities, it may be discriminatory, or at the very least, will not meet the affirmative action requirements of federal contractors.
What are some of the accessibility issues with pre-employment testing? At the Job Accommodation Network (JAN), consultants have fielded numerous calls indicating a variety of barriers posed by pre-employment tests. For example, people who have dexterity issues or a cognitive impairment are timed out of the process before they are able to complete the test. An applicant who is blind and uses a screen reader cannot use the screen reader to complete the test as there are interoperability challenges. An individual with a sight impairment requires a larger text font than is offered by the test.
In order to better understand the challenges and the solutions to making pre-employment tests accessible, I spoke with a representative from WellPoint, a national company known for being inclusive of people with disabilities and a collaborator and customer of JAN. WellPoint is a health care company that strives to be "America's valued health partner." This insurance and health care industry employer frequently uses pre-employment tests for entry level or front line personnel. These tests are conducted to understand the level of hard skills applicants will bring to the job including customer service etiquette, using a computer, and calculating numbers. WellPoint generously shared with us its best practices for insuring its pre-employment process is accessible for people with disabilities.
The first page of WellPoint's accessible jobs portal contains a notification of its commitment to hiring individuals with disabilities. Consequently, if an individual needs an accommodation for the application process or during the pre-employment testing phase, he or she is encouraged to e-mail WellPoint's Human Resource Department to request the accommodation. This request then goes to a specialized unit for consideration. Once the request is received, the accommodation specialist begins working with a third-party vendor who was hired to provide testing. We have found larger companies often use vendors or third-party administrators to conduct testing of candidates. In WellPoint's case, the third-party vendor is LOMA.
WellPoint charges the testing vendor to provide the appropriate accommodation based upon the needs of the applicant. WellPoint simply sends the name of the candidate to the vendor and then the vendor works with the individual to insure he/she is able to complete the test. LOMA's tests are designed so that the timing feature can be modified and the text font can be easily enlarged. WellPoint reports these are the most frequent accommodations requested. The disabilities most often resulting in these requests are deafness and blindness.
If the accommodation cannot be provided by a technical modification of the test, then the candidate's name is sent back to the employer. WellPoint then works to resolve the issue by making other accommodations. WellPoint states the most challenging accommodation issue is when the person's assistive technology is not compatible with the testing technology. However, between WellPoint and its vendor, they have been able to successfully resolve requests for accommodation, even if it means developing an alternate assessment that evaluates the same capabilities or competencies as the LOMA tests. In rare cases, WellPoint will waive a test when appropriate.
So, some best practices resulting from my conversation with a WellPoint representative are as follows:
- Prominently feature the accommodation request procedure for candidates with disabilities on your job portal.
- Have an accommodations specialist in your human resource group who understands accessibility barriers and accommodation solutions.
- Choose your pre-employment testing vendor wisely to insure the accessibility of its product. If your current vendor's product is not accessible, push back and ask that necessary modifications be made.
- Expect your vendor to make accommodations for individuals with disabilities. Charge your vendor with modifying its tests or testing processes.
- If your vendor cannot provide the necessary accommodation, then have a process in place for engaging in a deeper conversation about what would be needed to both meet the needs of you as an employer, as well as the candidate with a disability.
- Ultimately, consider waiving a test if that rare occasion occurs.