How to be open about your disability during the recruitment process: Q&A with Helen

Helen Back Up trust.png

Published on the Back Up Trust website

Our Founder and Director Helen Cooke was recently interviewed by the Back Up Trust for whom she is a Trustee. Helen provides some great advice for individuals with disabilities about what to disclose and how to disclose it during the recruitment process. To read the full article click here

The Back up Trust exists to transform the lives of everyone affected by spinal cord injury. That means delivering a range of services to build confidence and independence back into people’s lives, and offering a support network when it is needed most. It also means challenging perceptions of disability – that life with spinal cord injury can be a full and active one. 

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Revealed: The secrets of attracting the best disabled talent

At a time when budgets are tighter than ever, there has never been a stronger argument for inclusive attraction and recruitment practices. 

Organisations can no longer afford to pay to place specific adverts aimed at disabled candidates. Nor can they afford to pay specialist organisations to attract and recruit disabled graduates on their behalf.

The current economic climate is the stimulus needed to embrace inclusive practices - in order to attract and recruit the very best talent.

However, does being inclusive work? Is this how disabled candidates want to be treated? To answer these questions we need to understand how disabled jobseekers search for employment opportunities.

To this end Greenlight, the UK’s leading diversity communications agency, undertook research to understand the key issues for disabled candidates when they are looking for a job.


Greenlight conducted an online survey of over 120 current and potential job seekers who have a disability. In addition to partnering with Magazine, Arberry Profile and Employability, Greenlight utilised their network of universities as well as sending the survey to specific internal disability networks of employers. The survey covered the following areas:

  • How do you look for work?
  • What makes a company attractive?
  • When, if at all, do you disclose your disability?

How do disabled individuals look for work?

The continuing migration of jobseekers and consumers alike online is well documented and reflects a general move towards wanting quick and simple solutions to everyday problems. Jobseekers tend to use a variety of channels when looking for new employment, wanting to feel proactive and get their names ‘out there’.

No one looks exclusively offline: While 38% of respondents said that they looked in national newspapers and other offline media (magazines, posters, etc), none of them looked offline exclusively.

A small amount of exclusive online users: 85% of total respondents searched on some form of online platform, job boards, through a banner advertisement, on an online newspaper portal, etc. Meanwhile, 9% of the total sample said that they exclusively looked online.

Recruitment consultants:  Some 45% of all respondents said that they used recruitment consultants when looking for a job. 15% of all respondents only used this method; these were all experienced hires as opposed to graduates.

Generalist approach by students: Looking specifically at the student part of the sample, it is interesting to note that jobseekers take a generalist approach to online platforms, with only 10% of student respondents saying they look at specialist diversity websites like

In summary both disabled and non-disabled jobseekers, whether they be students or experienced hires, use the same channels to find jobs.

Graduate Recruitment: All Inclusive

Few graduate recruiters still need convincing of the talent that exists amongst disabled graduates. Organisations know that they are missing out on bright, motivated and talented individuals if they overlook this group of graduates. However, the challenge still remains in terms of what it actually means to have an inclusive resourcing process. Many organisations remain at a loss of what they need to do and how they should do it.

One option is to outsource the attraction, and in some cases, also the recruitment of disabled graduates to specialist organisations. In doing so, organisations can feel confident that they are tapping into disabled graduates and graduates feel confident that these specialists organisations will provide the support they require.

However many disabled graduates do not wish to apply for graduate jobs through a seemingly separate process. They want to be able to apply for jobs, and be considered, alongside their non-disabled colleagues. It can be argued that this is particularly true amongst the most talented and confident disabled graduates. It is therefore imperative that in order to attract and recruit the best graduates, which includes those who are disabled, you must ensure your graduate recruitment process is truly inclusive. This will enable you to effectively reach all individuals.

But what does being fully inclusive actually mean? Ultimately organisations should be confident that no part of their graduate resourcing process poses any barriers. To achieve this, a step by step approach is most effective. In getting started on this journey, the following 4 key areas should be focused on:

Marketing and Attraction

With few, if any, exceptions organisations leverage the power of the internet to market themselves as an employer of choice to graduates. The internet should also be seen as a key marketing tool for attracting disabled graduates. Key messages about your organisation as an inclusive employer should be visible. Profiles of previously recruited disabled graduates, and of other disabled employees, will strongly back up these messages. In addition, providing information on your ability to make adjustments will give confidence to disabled graduates that their needs can be met. 

However, relying on the website alone is not enough. It is crucial that organisations also ensure their on campus marketing activities are inclusive.

According to Stephen Isherwood, Senior Manager. Graduate Recruitment, Ernst and Young: “Disabled students often have misplaced preconceptions about employer attitudes which stop them applying. Website words are not enough.  As graduate recruiters we need to get out and meet potential candidates, show them that we are interested in their potential and want them to apply”

Reasonable adjustments

Having successfully marketed your organisation as an employer of choice to disabled graduates you need to be able to follow this through. You must be able to easily implement any required adjustment. These may be required at any stage of the process from how they apply through to materials required at the interview / assessment. To enable a seamless process, organisations must be able to efficiently and effectively source and implement required adjustments. In doing so you enable the applicant to demonstrate their true potential.

Organisational wide buy in and support

Don’t expect all your colleagues and hiring managers to naturally understand the ethos behind hiring disabled graduates. It is natural for people to have anxieties concerning something which may be new to them; this is particularly true about disability. However, if you are going to be successful in this area it is key to have people on board. Engage the wider team in the business case after all, they are the ones ultimately responsible for hiring talent and developing it once it is in the business.

Disability confident personnel

Arguably, the single most important area to get right is ensuring all the people involved in the graduate recruitment process are confident to deal with disabled graduates. This includes everyone from the graduate recruitment team, to representatives at marketing events, and particularly those involved in the interviews and assessments. In addition to feeling comfortable around disabled people, your colleagues must also be knowledgeable to answer questions about the type of support that can be provided. Attitude counts for a lot and getting it wrong can be devastating for your employer brand.

This is strongly advocated by Sonnia Thomas, Executive Director and Head of Diversity Recruiting for Europe, Goldman Sachs: “In addition to meeting reasonable adjustment needs, disability awareness training for recruiters and managers has also been key to ensuring that all candidates are benchmarked fairly throughout our recruitment process”

Attracting and recruiting disabled graduates isn’t difficult. It does not require additional resource, or indeed separate activities and processes. What it requires is for organisations to ensure that their processes are inclusive. Often you will find that you already have all the tools you require, it is simply a matter of evaluating their effectiveness from different perspectives.

However if you are unsure of what you are doing, or need to do, don’t be afraid to seek external guidance from organisations experienced in this field. Asking questions and seeking advice goes a long way in demonstrating your desire to build an inclusive environment. In doing so you will remove any potential barriers that exist for disabled graduates and allow the best of the best to successfully apply to your organisation.