How to Support Disabled and Neurodiverse Candidates

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Is your team supporting disabled and neurodiverse candidates in your hiring process? If you have diversity recruiting goals, but that diversity ends at gender, you need to do more. Here’s how.

A Reminder about Diversity

There is no end to the diversity that can be welcomed in the workplace: gender, education, race, class, neurodiversity, and more. Diversity means, quite literally, “the practice or quality of including or involving people from a range of different social and ethnic backgrounds and of different genders, sexual orientations, etc.” (Oxford Languages). That means diversity exists across all backgrounds: race, gender, sexual orientation, neurocognitive function, and physical, emotional, or mental abilities. Unfortunately, even in conversations about diversity, disabilities and neurodiversity at work are too often overlooked. 

What is Neurodiversity?

Neurodiversity is an umbrella term that, according to the Autism Self Advocacy Network, “encompasses neurocognitive differences such as autism, ADHD, dyslexia, Tourette’s syndrome, anxiety…as well as ‘normal’ neurocognitive functioning, or neurotypicality. Neurodivergent individuals are those whose brain functions differ from those who are neurologically typical, or neurotypical.” (Source)

Recent years have brought an influx of attention to supporting individuals’ needs to succeed at work, including the need for more representation and support for neurodiverse individuals.

What is a Disability?

The American federal government defines a person with a disability “as someone who (1) has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more “major life activities,” (2) has a record of such an impairment, or (3) is regarded as having such an impairment.” The CDC defines it a little differently, “A disability is any condition of the body or mind (impairment) that makes it more difficult for the person with the condition to do certain activities (activity limitation) and interact with the world around them (participation restrictions).”

Neurodiversity and Disabilities at Work

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Neurodiversity is about representing any number of neurocognitive differences:

  • Anxiety affects 40 million American adults every year. 
  • OCD affects 2.2 million adults in America. (Source)
  • The CDC estimates that over 5 million American adults have Autism.
  • Over 43 million American adults have dyslexia, which is the most common reason for reading and spelling difficulties.

Despite the prevalence of some of these common neurocognitive differences. “…only 58 percent of young autistic people have work experience after high school and into their early 20s, and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities have an abysmal 85 percent unemployment rate, according to a 2018 Autism Society briefing.” (Source)

According to a 2019 HBR article, while 30% of the professional workforce fits the definition of having a disability, only 39% disclose that information to their manager. “Even fewer have disclosed to their teams (24%) and HR (21%). Almost none (4%) have revealed their disability to clients.”

The Barriers to Success

Many workplaces inadvertently put up barriers to the success of neurodiverse people and those with disabilities. Throughout all of these suggestions, you need to remember to provide accessible information. Do you have alt text on images to support screen-reading programs? Is your website accessible? Are your videos captioned? If you’re working towards diversity, accessibility should be a top priority.

The “Must-Have”s for a Role

Why are the job’s needs what they are? There are always entirely reasonable needs for a role, i.e., any needed education or certifications. Still, some don’t seem to click, i.e., years of experience for an entry-level position.

When a job description and posting are built, be rigorous with questions about necessary qualifications. Making requirements too lengthy could be prohibitive to neurodiverse and disabled candidates and women who only apply to roles when they meet 100% of the requirements

Qualifying and Interviewing Candidates

How are you interviewing and judging candidates and applicants? Autistic people may miss Nonverbal cues (like eye contact, a firm handshake, or an open disposition). Disqualifying candidates based on minor reading comprehension errors could inadvertently harm people with dyslexia. Discarding job jumping could be a sign of toxic work environments, not an unloyal employee.

Make sure your qualification and interview process is welcome to people of all abilities. To support disabilities and neurodiversity at work, you have to accommodate everyone’s needs.

Working Conditions

Stop expecting productive employees to work 12 hours at a time in the offices that you’ve built! For some people, that’s not a problem at all, but to support disabilities and neurodiversity at work, you must be willing to accommodate and respect individual needs. Providing flexible working conditions (adjusting hours as needed, letting people work from home even after the pandemic, and giving plenty of time off) can open your workplace to the diversity you need to be successful.

Embracing Disabled and Neurodiverse Candidates

Bring Inclusivity to The Hiring Process

Work with the hiring team to make sure that your process is inclusive, welcoming, and accessible. Limit must-have requirements to only things that are a must-have. Create an inclusive and unified candidate judging process so that the same standards apply to every hiring team member.

Create Awareness and Tackle Misconceptions Openly

You’re already taking the first step to learning by reading this blog post! Remember that learning about and prioritizing diversity at work doesn’t end. It is a lifelong journey that requires effort to make the workplace a safer and more inclusive space for all people. 

The first step in that journey is understanding where you and your team stand. Our report, The Current State of Diversity Recruiting, compiles survey answers from over 150 organizations about their current diversity recruiting goals and efforts. Download the report to see where your team stands.

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When it comes to disabilities and neurodiversity at work, there are plenty of misconceptions out there. It’s your job as a hiring team to tackle those misconceptions openly. If you make a mistake, own up to it and decide how you will do better to avoid future errors.

Build Accommodations for Success

It doesn’t always have to take a major overhaul to your workplace to accommodate every employee. If the pandemic has taught us anything, we are all fully capable of adjusting as needed to keep everyone safe.

Work with your company and your hiring teams to decide what accommodations you can provide to support your employees. Make it clear in your recruiting process that your team is welcome and open to building a successful and accessible workplace for all. 


In the end, diversity goals and efforts need to focus on not just gender and race but abilities and neurodiversity, as well. By supporting disabled and neurodiverse candidates, your company will become a leader in employing successful and inclusive teams.

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