How to Make Job Interviews More Accessible

How can you make your job interviews fairer and more inclusive for disabled people and people with different learning styles? In this article, the author shares insights from two experts on how to set up an environment where all candidates have opportunities to demonstrate their strengths.

Designing an accessible, inclusive interview process for disabled people and people with different learning styles both widens the talent pool and creates a more equitable workplace.

For hiring managers, this requires a thoughtful and conscientious approach. Where do you begin? What actions can you take to accommodate candidates’ needs? How do you maintain consistent evaluation criteria? And how can you set up an environment where all candidates have opportunities to demonstrate their strengths?

What the Experts Say

A record share of disabled people were employed in the U.S. last year, according to a report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This is progress but more can be done, according to Katie Bach, a former nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who has spent most of her career focused on job creation, access, and quality.

It starts with creating a level playing field in job interviews. “Offering accommodations to candidates is table stakes,” she says. “What I see as the next step is not just asking individuals if they need accommodation, but helping candidates think through what kinds of accommodations might be possible.”

Reimagining old, out-moded interview tactics is also key, says Ludmila Praslova, professor of organizational psychology at Vanguard University and the author of The Canary Code: A Guide to Neurodiversity, Dignity, and Intersectional Belonging at Work. “We’ve been using the same methods for years without considering what’s truly needed for a specific job and how to identify the right candidate,” she says. After all, the goal of job interviews is to uncover a candidate’s potential and “assess whether that individual has the necessary skills for the role; everything else creates unnecessary barriers.”

Here are some strategies for making your job interviews fairer and more inclusive.

Increase your understanding of disability.

First things first: You need to break free from your preconceived ideas about disability, says Bach. “Many of us hold a certain image of what disability looks like and assume that we haven’t worked with many disabled people,” she says.

But statistically speaking, this belief is unlikely to reflect reality. Roughly one in four Americans live with a disability, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and studies suggest that about 9% of Americans have a learning difference. Many of these differences and disabilities are hidden or invisible.

Meanwhile, 61% of disabled workers have experienced bias, mistreatment, and bullying on the job, research shows. “Once you broaden your understanding of disability and its implications,” says Bach, “you realize it’s far more prevalent and complex than you thought.”

Which is all to say that when it comes to designing more inclusive, accessible job interviews, “sometimes you need to open yourself up to less comfortable forms of understanding,” notes Praslova. “That means listening without judgment and not making assumptions about someone faking or being lazy or high maintenance.”

Recognize that people may need accommodations and that strict conformity to traditional interview methods can perpetuate bias. Empathy is important — but even empathy has its limitations, Praslova says: “It’s not about you, it’s about the other person. And their reality might be very different from yours.”

Look critically at your current practices.

Next, examine your current interview practices and techniques and identify unnecessary hurdles that don’t reflect actual job requirements.

“Sometimes interviews are designed to trick people, make them emotional, and throw them off balance to see how they perform under pressure,” says Praslova. But these tactics could disproportionately disadvantage candidates with social anxiety or neurodivergent thinking, and thus face greater challenges in these situations. “You’re not interviewing for the Secret Service,” she says.

Bach agrees. The interview doesn’t have to perfectly mimic the conditions of the job, but you might want to examine any “physically and psychologically demanding practices” and perhaps make adjustments, she says. (More on this later.) Do interviews need to be all-day marathons? Must they include 90-minute-long on-the-fly case studies? Do they even need to be in person? “If it’s not part of the job, you need to ask yourself: Are we creating an environment that anyone can thrive in? Or are we making it artificially hard?”

Ask candidates what they need.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution for making interviews more inclusive, says Bach. “Even people with the same disability can have different symptoms and severities,” which is why you need to work with individual candidates to determine what they might need.

Bach suggests creating “a menu of possible accommodations” that includes examples of what’s been done in the past. This might include providing extra time for completing tasks or responding to interview questions, presenting questions in different formats to address different learning styles, or conducting remote interviews for candidates who may have mobility challenges.

Praslova recommends sharing this menu of options with all candidates and encouraging them to request additional support if needed. “Make it clear that it’s safe to ask for things and it won’t be held against them,” she says, noting research that suggests disclosing a disability at work is often a fraught experience. Praslova champions the platinum rule — an evolved version of the golden rule: “Treat others as they want to be treated,” she says. “It’s not what you want, it’s what the other person wants.”

Build in flexibility and humanity.

In addition to offering specific accommodations, Praslova suggests building in flexibility, convenience, and humanity into your interviews. “If you create environments that are good for canaries, they’ll be good for everyone,” she says. For example, she recommends conducting interviews in quiet, private spaces to reduce distractions and sensory overload; limiting the number of interviews a candidate must attend in one day; and providing personalized support.

“If you’re inviting people to a physical site, meet them at the door and guide them to the interview,” she says. “If it’s a virtual interview, don’t assume they know how to use Zoom. Even when things feel obvious to you, try to put yourself in the candidate’s shoes.”

Praslova also recommends providing all candidates with interview questions in advance. Not only does this allow them time to prepare thoughtful responses, it also removes some of the psychological stress associated with interviews. Otherwise, she says, you may unintentionally place a higher value on their confidence, rather than their skills and abilities. “When you’re measuring people’s quickness on their feet, sometimes what you’re getting is their overconfidence.”

Use structured interviews.

While open-ended, more casual interviews have their appeal, research shows that structured interviews — which involve a set number of predetermined questions — are less biased and tend to offer a more accurate assessment of a candidate’s suitability for a role. “A lot of interviews basically come down to some variation of the airport test: Does this person vibe with me?” says Praslova. Structured interviews, on the other hand, “have checklists and processes that scaffold hiring managers into fairness.”

Bach recommends asking all candidates to share specific professional experiences with questions that begin: Tell me about a time when. To ensure fairness and objectivity, evaluate candidates solely on these established criteria and support your assessment with solid evidence. Don’t let factors like what the candidate is wearing, how nervous they appear, or how easily they engage in small talk influence the interview, she adds. “Know what you’re assessing and only assess that,” she says. “Candidates want you to focus on their strengths and abilities and what they can do.”

Principles to Remember



This article follows the preference of autistic and disabled communities for identity-first language.

Hiring and recruitment, Diversity and inclusion, Talent management, Disabilities, Neurodiversity, Digital Article

Rebecca Knight
Rebecca Knight is a journalist who writes about all things related to the changing nature of careers and the workplace. Her essays and reported stories have been featured in The Boston Globe, Business Insider, The New York Times, BBC, and The Christian Science Monitor. She was shortlisted as a Reuters Institute Fellow at Oxford University in 2023. Earlier in her career, she spent a decade as an editor and reporter at the Financial Times in New York, London, and Boston.

HBR Staff/Kaori Ando/Iuliia Isaieva/yacobchuk/Getty Images