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FastFacts On.. WHEN THE JOB CANDIDATE HAS A DISABILITY Vol. III, No. 4, September 2003

Even the most seasoned interviewer may feel less confident when interviewing an applicant with a disability. For those with even less experience, the task can be overwhelming.


  • One in nearly five Americans is affected by a disability.

  • Almost 500,000 students with disabilities attend two or four year colleges and universities.

  • Seventy-two percent of adults with disabilities want to work.

  • Studies indicate that workers with disabilities rate average or above average in performance, attendance, and work safety.

  • According to research, workers with disabilities are more inclined to stay in jobs longer, reducing high turnover costs.


  • Conduct the meeting as you would any other interview.

  • Emphasize the individual's abilities and achievements.

  • Refer to the individual's strengths as they are reflected on the resumé or application.

  • If it appears the person's disability could interfere with job performance, ask the person how he or she would perform the job.

  • Just as it is not always necessary to mention an individual's gender or ethnic origin, it is also not necessary to mention that a person has a disability.

  • It is acceptable to use everyday phrases that may relate to the individual's disability. It's perfectly acceptable to say to a person who uses a wheelchair, "Let's walk over here." Or to someone who is blind, "It was nice to see you."


Basic rule: The ADA does not allow questions about a candidate's disability or to give a medical examination until after a conditional job offer is made.

Examples of what you can ask:

  • Whether the applicant has appropriate education, training, and skills necessary to perform the essential functions of the job.

  • Whether the applicant can satisfy the job's requirements or essential functions (describe these job functions to the applicant).*

  • How much time off the applicant took in previous jobs (but not why), the reason he or she left, and any past discipline received.

Examples of what can't be asked:
  • Questions about an applicant's physical or mental disability or how he or she became disabled (e.g., questions about why the applicant uses a wheelchair).

  • Questions about an applicant's use of medication.

  • Questions about an applicant's prior workers' compensation history.

*If it appears an applicant has a disability requiring a reasonable accommodation(s), the interviewer may ask if she or he will need one. This is an exception to the rule that questions regarding disability and reasonable accommodations should come after making a conditional job offer.

Example: "As you can see from the job description, this position requires some lifting and moving. Do you foresee any difficulty in performing the required tasks? If so, do you have any suggestions how these tasks can be performed?"


Basic rule: After making a job offer, the interviewer may ask any disability-related questions and conduct a medical examination as long as this is done for everybody in the same job category.

Examples of what you can do:

  • If you want to give a medical examination to someone who has been offered a job that involves heavy labor, you must give the same exam to everyone who is offered the same kind of job.

  • You can withdraw an offer from an applicant with a disability only if it is clear that she or he cannot do the essential job functions or would pose a direct threat (i.e., a significant risk of substantial harm) to the health or safety of himself or herself or other employees. Be sure to consider whether any reasonable accommodation(s) would enable the individual to perform the job's essential functions or would reduce any safety risk the individual might pose.

  • You may withdraw an offer of a manufacturing job involving the use of dangerous machinery if you learn during a post-offer medical exam that the applicant has frequent and unpredictable seizures.

Examples of what you can't do:
  • You can't withdraw an offer to an HIV-positive applicant because you are concerned about customer and client reactions or because you assume that they will be unable to work long and stressful hours.



Job Accommodation Network (JAN)

U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), 800-669-4000, (TTY 800-559-6820)

Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) 800-283-shrm

Disability & Business Technical Assistance Centers (DBTAC) - 800-949-4232

Disclaimer: This fact sheet does not constitute legal advice. Legal advice must be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case. Because laws and regulations are constantly changing, nothing contained in this fact sheet should be used as a substitute for advice from legal counsel.

Source: The Americans with Disabilities Act: A Primer for Small Business. The U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission

Center for Workforce Preparation U.S. Chamber of Commerce 1615 H St., N.W. Washington, D.C. 20062-2000 202-463-5525 VOICE; 202-463-5308 FAX

VCU-RRTC on Workplace Supports 1314 W. Main St., Richmond, VA 23284-2011 804-828-1851 VOICE; 804-828-2494 TTY 804-828-2193 FAX

FAST FACTS is a joint publication between the U.S. Chamber's Center for Workforce Preparation & VCU-RRTC on Workplace Supports: A Business Marketing Initiative