Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Discussion to address improved accessibility of online employment tools

Cynthia M. Parkhill's Bitstrips comic avatar extends her hand to shake hands with another person who is shown from the partial back view. Nearby, three other people are shown on either side of her, also from  a partial back view. While her expression is one of smiling, two cartoon liquid drops of sweat depict the cartoon avatar's nervousness. The caption, centered in quotation marks, reads, 'You are unsure of what to say when you meet someone.'
Cartoon image created with Bitstrips and added April 4, 2015
The U.S. Office of Disability Employment Policy is hosting an online dialogue about ways to make job-related technology more accessible to applicants with intellectual disabilities, cognitive issues, traumatic brain injuries or similar disabilities.

The discussion could not be more timely, given the increased prevalence of “social suitability” questions as part of the application process. In my opinion, any discussion of accessibility needs to include deliberate barriers imposed against job candidates.

During typical screenings, applicants are asked to indicate the degree to which they agree or disagree with statements such as these: “I keep my feelings to myself,” “It’s fun to go out to events with big crowds,” “You are unsure of yourself with new people,” “It is easy for you to feel what others are feeling,” “You are unsure of what to say when you meet someone,” “You do not like small talk,” “You know when someone is in a bad mood, even if they don’t show it.”

The statements seem purposely designed to filter out characteristics associated with the autism spectrum: our uneasiness with crowds, dislike of social chatter and difficulty interpreting other people’s emotions.

Nor am I the only one expressing my concern; Jan Johnston-Tyler, founder and chief executive officer of a company that provides job placement for people with disabilities told New York Times writer Katherine Bouton about the experience of a client on the autism spectrum when he applied for a job with Subway.
“While most of the online application was routine, the last step was a multiple choice questionnaire. One of the 60 questions was, ‘Sometimes I have a hard time figuring out how I am supposed to behave around others.’
“Most of us would check off the ‘disagree’ option, but as Ms. Johnston-Tyler pointed out, many people with Asperger’s ‘are generally honest to a fault.’ She contacted Subway’s corporate parent and was told that her client could fill out a different application without social suitability questions.”
In my opinion, questions like these fail to gauge my dependability, safety orientation, initiative, team orientation, ability to take direction or leadership (to cite the stated assessment objectives of one “talent acquisition” service).

They do, however, place an unfair burden on me when competing with applicants who purposely skew their selections toward the “preferred” answers.

The Partnership on Employment and Accessible Technology and the Autistic Self Advocacy Network are co-hosting the discussion; they seek information about problems applicants had when using online tools and websites. They also ask that participants share their ideas for improvements.

To contribute to the discussion, visit ASAN-PEATePolicyWorks.ideascale.com. The deadline to participate is Friday, Dec. 20.

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