Part 2: Issues in staff selection

Last updated: 07 May 2012

This page is: archived

Introduction

The broad ranging consultations undertaken for this project revealed that:

  • current recruitment practices are often seen by people with disability as a barrier to their employment in the APS
  • there is a strong demand for training material that discusses the best way to manage and support people with disability during selection processes.

The material set out within this part of the toolkit covers a series of policies and practices that directly affect selection outcomes. This material has been compiled with the impact on people with disability in mind. Good selection processes, however, benefit us all, and many of these ideas are relevant to every selection exercise.

A quick checklist for people running selection exercise is included at Appendix A.

Available selections training

General selections training for APS employees, which includes advice concerning dealing with applicants who identify as having a disability is available as a package from the Australian Public Service Commission (the Commission). The Commission delivers this package either as part of its public programme or as a targeted in-house presentation.

For further information, contact your nearest office of the Commission. Contact details are on the Commission’s website.50

How to use this part

Alternatively, if agencies wish to develop their own material, or incorporate material into their existing selections training packages that deal specifically with disability, the information in this section which is structured around the usual steps in a selection process may be of assistance.

The material includes:

  • background information about each of the topics that presenters can draw from to develop talking points
  • suggested key points that agencies can use to prepare overhead slides
  • some worked examples that illustrate the kinds of issues that arise when considering whether processes are fair for people with disability. Although they illustrate real issues, these examples are hypothetical and not based on the experience of any particular agency
  • some questions to provoke discussion among a training group.

The material has been provided in this toolkit so that agencies can take it and adapt it for their purposes in their own training. It has been developed with a particular emphasis on the processes that apply for competitive, merit-based selection for ongoing employment and jobs. Many of the principles, however, will still apply to other recruitment and selection processes. In fact, non-ongoing employment on many occasions may provide a useful opportunity for people with disability to gain entry to an APS agency. Strategies that might support this are set out in more detail in Part 3 of this toolkit.

Other training

There are many organisations that can provide APS agencies with specialist advice and training on issues arising from the employment of people with disability.

Co-worker training—the training of people who work in the same workplace as a person with a disability that lets them know about the nature and impact of that disability—is often available from the employment agency that has assisted with the placement. The agencies shown at 'Places to go for information' may also be able to help design training, or provide training about specific issues.

Other training about disability issues, including general training about disability issues or ‘disability awareness’ is available at a number of points on the Internet. As an example, the NSW Department of Premier and Cabinet has a useful on-line course51 that is supplemented by an interactive CD.

Legislation and concepts

The legislation

Selections in the Australian Public Service are affected by a number of pieces of legislation and legal principles.

Of particular relevance to the employment of people with disability are:

  • the Public Service Act 1999, Public Service Regulations 1999, and Public Service Commissioner’s Directions, especially those provisions dealing with diversity and merit
  • the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (DD Act)
  • the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Act 1986.

In broad terms, this legislation imposes a positive onus on public servants to make decisions based on merit, to support diversity within the workplace, and to avoid discrimination. The DD Act in particular operates to make it unlawful to discriminate against a person in employment on the basis of their disability.

Reasonable adjustment

Reasonable adjustment applies to the employment of people with disability. In a selection context, its purpose is to allow consideration of adjustments to the process and, within reason, to the duties, which might be made to facilitate the employment of such staff. Consideration needs to be given to the specific disability of the applicant, rather than making assumptions about people with that category of disability. Merit has to be observed, but the selection panel and the delegate are able to consider reasonable adjustment factors in the assessment process.

An applicant with a disability must be able to perform the duties which are the primary purpose of the employment opportunity. Consideration of possible modifications to duties, however, must be made unless it involves ‘unjustifiable hardship’.

The meanings of ‘reasonable adjustment’ and ‘unjustifiable hardship’ are discussed in more detail in Part 1 of this toolkit at What are we talking about? Some definitions….

Examples of 'reasonable adjustment' include:

  • tailoring recruitment and selection procedures to allow fair access for people with disability by, for example, providing recruitment material in alternate formats such as electronically or in large font hard copy
  • modifications to work premises or equipment, such as providing voice-activated software
  • changes to the design of duties, work schedules, e.g. is it possible for other employees to swap some of the duties?

Additional examples are also set out in Part 1 of this toolkit at What are we talking about? Some definitions….

Discrimination in selection processes

Direct discrimination occurs whenever an individual is unfairly disadvantaged by being treated differently from others because of, in this case, his or her disability. For example, refusing to promote an employee solely because he or she has a disability can amount to discrimination if they are otherwise able to perform the inherent requirements of the position.

Indirect discrimination occurs when a system or requirement that looks objectively fair operates in practice to disadvantage people with disability unfairly, and is not reasonable. For example:

  • the failure to provide proper access for people with disability to an office building may prevent people with mobility or sensory impairments from getting to an interview in the first place
  • a requirement that all applicants prepare a handwritten report as part of their interview may disadvantage people with, for instance, motor control disabilities.

In each of these cases, an objective requirement which did not, on its face, mention disability in any way can create a disproportionate disadvantage for applicants with disability that is not related to their capacity to perform the inherent requirements of the position. Circumstances like this raise the potential for allegations of indirect discrimination.

Discrimination, particularly indirect discrimination, is a complex issue for people conducting selection exercises, and care will often need to be exercised to ensure that processes that might seem fair do not, in practice, operate to discriminate unfairly against applicants with disability.

It is important to remember that treating people the same is not always the same as treating them fairly, whether or not they have a disability. It would not, for example, be fair to expect a person with a speech impairment to give an oral presentation during a selection exercise even though that is what all the other candidates were asked to do.

Each applicant is an individual and, within reason, people conducting selection exercises need to consider on a case-by-case basis what they need to do to allow each individual to present their claims effectively.

Further information on discrimination is available from the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission.52

The APS Values stipulate that:

the APS provides a workplace that is free from discrimination and recognises and utilises the diversity of the Australian community it serves53

What do I need to think about first?

Part of any effective selection process will be a preliminary planning phase, during which the responsible employees will usually:

  • authorise the filling of an employment opportunity
  • decide how to fill an employment opportunity
  • decide on selection requirements.

Except in specific circumstances, all selection decisions made by an Agency Head (or delegate) on the engagement or promotion of an ongoing employee must be made on the basis of a merit selection exercise, and must be notified in the Commonwealth of Australia Public Service Gazette (‘the Gazette’). These circumstances include the employment of people with intellectual disability (refer to Public Service Commissioner’s Direction 4.2(6)54 and Commission Circular 2006/655).

Where an agency wishes to pursue the employment of a person with an intellectual disability they should discuss it with an agency in the Disability Employment Network,56 a network of employment support agencies that has been established across Australia to support the employment of people with disability. Discussions of this kind will help in deciding whether a particular position is suitable for a person with intellectual disability.

Agencies are free to choose the selection tools, for example, interviews, work-based tests, referee comments, assessment centres, to be used to assess people for engagement, promotion, reassignment of duties and movement. However, whatever processes are chosen, care should be exercised to ensure that they will deliver an outcome that is genuinely merit-based, and that they do not discriminate unfairly against people with disability.

Advertising vacancies

The Commissioner's Directions require that all employment opportunities for ongoing employment be notified in the Gazette.

The decision whether any additional advertising is required, and the form it should take (e.g. Internet or press), will need to be made during the selection process. This decision should be informed by any relevant policies that exist within the agency, including any policies that exist concerning the recruitment of people with disability.

People with disability often access different recruitment streams, and it may be useful to advertise vacancies with JobSearch,57 the National Disability Recruitment Co-ordinator,58 or with a vocational rehabilitation service such as CRS Australia.59 More detail on these agencies is set out at 'Places to go for information'.

Agencies may wish to indicate, where this is appropriate, that they are particularly interested in seeking applications from people with disability. Section 45 of the DD Act allows such special measures to be taken to support equal opportunity in employment.

All applications received would, of course, need to be treated on their own merits, and a statement such as this within an advertisement does not imply that applications from people with disability would receive special treatment in any way once received. The Public Service Act requirement that employment decisions be made on the basis of merit would still apply.

What do we mean when we talk about applying merit?

Merit as articulated in the APS Values in section 10(1)(b) of the Public Service Act 1999 is a fundamental principle of APS employment.

Under the Public Service Act, merit, in relation to engagements and promotions, must involve a fair and transparent competitive selection process that assesses the relative suitability of applicants for the duties.

Other employment decisions such as movements at level (i.e. transfers) and the temporary assignment of ‘higher duties’ do not require competitive selection processes in order to be based on merit, but must involve an assessment of the person against the work-related qualities required for efficient and effective organisational performance. Circumstances like this often provide valuable development opportunities, at or above their normal classification, for any staff member.

In each case, the decision maker is required to focus on the ability of the person to meet the genuine requirements of the duties. This mirrors the basic test under the DD Act, that is, whether the person can meet the inherent requirements of the position with reasonable adjustment having been made.

Employees with disability should be considered fairly for such opportunities. Managers will need to be careful that they don’t assume that employees with disability cannot do other jobs, or accept higher levels of responsibility. As with every other employee, they should talk to the relevant staff members and sound out with them whether they wish to accept the opportunity and, if so, what adjustments might need to be made.

What do I need to do to get the documentation right?

The advertisement

Good practice advice on how to structure a job advertisement is set out in the Commission’s Get It Right kit.60 The kit suggests that advertisements, and the related selection documentation, should be short, punchy, realistic, and free of jargon where possible.

In particular, care should be taken to ensure that the documentation does not deter suitable applicants from applying. To assist this:

  • the duties of the position should be set out clearly and simply
  • the selection criteria should say something about the personal qualities and experience of the applicants, without setting the barrier unrealistically high, and must be relevant to the inherent requirements of the job
  • the documentation should be available in alternative formats, such as in electronic form or, in some cases, in Braille, to allow broad access.

The advertisement for a position, whether it is in the Gazette or other media, sends powerful messages to potential applicants about both the nature of that position and also the nature of the organisation.

Job advertisements provide a vehicle for both positive messages about the way in which an agency employs people with disability but can also, if not structured carefully, operate to exclude people with disability from applying. The major issue for agencies to be cautious about in this regard is the possibility of discrimination by listing unrealistic or unfair requirements for applicants.

At the same time, the care taken to structure an advertisement to minimise the chances of indirect discrimination will usually mean that the advertisement is more useful to all applicants, not just people with disability, and open the field up to a broader range of potential applicants.

Mandatory qualifications should be included only where they are necessary for the performance of the inherent requirements of the duties.

Example

The Australian Road Trauma Agency conducts assessments of physical incapacity for Australians with serious road trauma-related injuries, including home visits to make recommendations about home modifications.

Home-based assessments are conducted by a two-person team: an occupational therapist to assess the level of incapacity, and an engineer to assess the requirements for any modifications to the dwelling.

The agency wishes to advertise positions for occupational therapists. In its advertisement it says that:

The Agency is seeking applications from people interested in helping us to help injured Australians reintegrate into the Australian community.

If you like to work with people in a caring way and have at least two year’s experience as an occupational therapist dealing with the rehabilitation of road trauma injuries, we’d like to hear from you.

Applicants for these positions must have a Bachelor of Applied Science (Occupational Therapy) or equivalent academic qualification, and possess a current driver’s licence.

The Australian Road Trauma Agency is proud of its diverse workforce, and welcomes applications from all qualified Australians.

What issues might this raise for applicants with disability?

Some issues that the Agency might want to think about in this advertisement, and that could raise questions of discrimination, are:

  • Although the qualification shown is the correct qualification required to practice as an occupational therapist, is it really necessary for the assessment to be carried out by an occupational therapist or can it be carried out by people with other forms of medical qualification or experience? What qualifications are necessarily implied by the duties of the position, if any?
  • Similarly, is it really necessary for the person to have two years experience dealing with the rehabilitation of road trauma injuries? It may be that people with other forms of experience, or experience with other forms of injuries, would be equally adept in the role.
  • Because the person will conduct home visits, it would clearly be convenient if they had a driver’s licence, but it is not necessary that they do. Reasonable adjustments in this case might be that any necessary driving be done by their partner, or that they take taxis. The inherent requirement of the position is to conduct an assessment of the level of incapacity, not that the person be able to drive to the home.

The advertisement also provides an opportunity to signal that the agency is interested in receiving applications from people with disability. Section 45 of the DD Act allows such special measures to be taken to support equal opportunity in employment.

All applications received would, of course, need to be treated on their own merits, and a statement such as this within an advertisement does not imply that applications from people with disability would receive special treatment in any way once received. The Public Service Act requirement that employment decisions be made on the basis of merit would still apply.

Describing the duties

As mentioned in the Australian Public Service Commission’s Get It Right kit61 it is always a good idea to review the duties of a position before advertising to make sure that it is accurate and up to date. It may also be helpful to consider at this time which duties are really fundamental to the employment, and which might be less important or no longer performed at all.

Clear, simple statements of the duties assist all applicants, including applicants with disability, to know whether this is a job that might be right for them.

Developing selection criteria

People conducting a selection process are being asked to make an assessment of the relative merit of the applicants having regard, primarily, to the duties of the position(s) they are considering.

Selection criteria are a useful aid in coming to that assessment, and should be developed from the duties of the position, reflecting the work related qualities required to perform the duties and achieve outcomes. Selection criteria only have an accurate meaning in the context of the duties of the position—what is meant by, for example, ‘effective communication skills’ will vary depending on the nature of the duties to be performed and the level of complexity that exists in that position.

All selection exercises, and all applicants, will benefit from criteria that are short, clear, and to the point. People with disability in particular, however, are often doubtful about their capacity to address selection criteria. Selection criteria that are unreasonably demanding, or that do not relate to the inherent requirements of the position, may be discriminatory in their own right and can also have the effect of limiting the pool of people likely to apply (whether or not they have disability).

Example

The position advertised in the Australian Road Trauma Agency included the following selection criterion:

  1. Excellent written and oral communication skills, including the capacity to make presentations, and high-level negotiation skills.

What issues might this raise for applicants generally, especially applicants with disability, and for the selection panel that has to assess their applications?

Some elements of this criterion, particularly those dealing with negotiation and presentation skills, do not clearly relate to the duties of the position and may operate to discourage valuable applicants. They may disproportionately discourage people with disability who may, for example, not be confident about their presentation skills. This may raise issues of indirect discrimination.

Disability issues may also come directly into consideration when looking at the issue of communication skills. For example, a person with a speech impediment might be likely to be rated poorly against such a criterion because they lack confidence about making presentations, even though their oral communication skills would be satisfactory when dealing one-to-one with the person with a road trauma-related injury.

The requirement to write may disadvantage a range of people with disability—the issue raised by the position is more likely to be one of being able to record data, and the selection process should be flexible enough to recognise that information can be recorded in other formats.

Finally, are the selection panel and the delegate required to disregard all applicants whose communication skills may be perfectly adequate for the position, but not excellent?

In practice, the person in this position needs to be able to communicate effectively with clients whom they are assessing and with their co-workers. There may be some requirement to write technical reports and undertake other routine writing duties. The task for the selection panel is:

  • to identify the people who have the communications skills that, with reasonable adjustment applied where necessary, can get the job done and
  • then make a relative ranking.

Perhaps it would be simpler and clearer for everyone involved if the criterion was something like:

  1. The successful applicant will be able to:
    1. communicate effectively with their co-workers, clients and other stakeholders, including preparing reports and other records of information.  

Information/Candidate Kits

Information kits are a useful way to provide information to the field of applicants about the job and about how to apply.

This information needs to be presented in a way that is accessible to all applicants, including those with disability. This may mean that the kit may need to be converted to larger font versions, made available electronically in a plain text format, or able to be converted to Braille.

The kit may also be used to present the agency and its policies/practices in relation to the employment of people with disability, including information such as:

  • any special conditions of service or remuneration package incentives
  • any appropriate agency policies or procedures, including diversity policies and, where applicable, diversity contact officer details
  • information concerning flexible employment conditions
  • the agency’s Certified Agreement, or a statement noting that access to Australian Workplace Agreements (AWAs) is open to successful applicants.

Information kits are also an opportunity to begin the discussion with applicants with disability about the impact their disability may have and, more importantly, what adjustments the agency needs to make to allow them to compete fairly for selection. The kit may provide an opportunity for each applicant to identify whether they have any special requirements that will need to be accommodated, and what steps the agency might take to assist them, during the selection process. The kit should stress that this is the only purpose for collecting that information, and reiterate that applications from people with disability are encouraged.

Where special needs are identified by an applicant, it is appropriate for a selection committee, for example, to discuss with the applicant the reasons for that adjustment and the best way to meet their needs.

Example

The Australian Road Trauma Agency provides support services to Australians from all backgrounds. We’re proud of the fact that our diverse workforce helps us to anticipate and meet the needs of the broad community. To maintain that standard of excellence, we want to make sure that this recruitment exercise attracts the best applicants and allows their claims to be treated fairly.

If you have any special needs during the selection process that may affect how you can present your claims, for example, because you have a disability, please contact [delegate/chair of the selection panel/diversity contact officer] to discuss your needs and how we can accommodate them effectively during the selection.

In this context, the disclosure by a person that they have a disability is often a difficult decision and should be treated with proper respect. As a matter of good practice, a person who does disclose should always be contacted by the delegate or the chair of the selection panel to discuss what arrangements, if any, they need to have made to allow them to present their claims fairly and compete for selection. This will allow the panel to prepare for any special access needs, but also to consider whether they need to make alterations to the methods they propose to use to assess each of the candidates.

In some cases, an agency may opt not to seek this information from applicants until they shortlist those applicants most likely to be successful. Where that occurs it is recommended that each of the shortlisted applicants be contacted by the delegate or chair of the selection panel to establish whether they need such arrangements and, if so, what they might be.

In either case, an applicant is more likely to disclose that they have a disability were they are confident that there is a purpose to making that disclosure. To make an informed decision, they will need to know what the selection process is likely to involve before they can make an assessment of whether they will require any particular arrangements to be made at all. Openness and transparency about the form of selection process that agencies intend to adopt, and what that will entail in practice (e.g. participating in face–to–face interviews, written tests, making presentations and so on), will clearly make this decision more straightforward for applicants.

What do I need to think about when I assess applicants?

Shortlisting

The purpose of shortlisting is to isolate the best applicants for further consideration, based on the substance of the material presented. As such, it requires an exercise of judgement on the part of the decision maker/s that needs to be made in a considered, reasonable and flexible way.

People with disability may face particular difficulties in compiling applications. For example:

  • applications may not be in the usual form, which will require decision makers to look beyond their own expectations about style or format and deal with the substance
  • there may be significant gaps in their résumés that reflect periods of unemployment or illness
  • applicants without APS experience may follow different conventions with their applications.

There is no requirement to interview every applicant with a disability but, where an applicant with disability is ranked just outside the shortlist, it may be advisable for the members of the panel or the delegate to reflect on exactly why that has happened so that they are comfortable that it is for reasons unrelated to the person’s disability.

Late applications

Some people with disability may have particular difficulty submitting applications on time and, within reason, the acceptance of late applications may be a form of reasonable adjustment in itself.

Accessibility issues

Before selections are made, consideration should be given to ensuring that the venue proposed is accessible to people with disability, that it meets the same access standards as Commonwealth premises are required to meet regardless of whether any of the applicants have indicated that they have particular difficulties with mobility or other disabilities.62

Deciding on the method of assessment

Every method of assessment has its own strengths and weaknesses, and some of them may be particularly problematic for people with disability. Some people with disability may find it difficult to participate fully and fairly because of the nature of some processes and, where processes are not necessary to judge the merits of the individual against the inherent requirements of the position, this may raise potential issues of discrimination. Agencies will need to exercise care and judgment to ensure that their processes are fair and relevant to the position.

In this respect, selection panels and delegates also need to retain flexibility to deal properly with contingencies as they arise. As a general rule, where a selection panel or delegate becomes aware at any stage of a process that the method they have adopted is disadvantaging an applicant with disability, they should discuss the issue with the relevant applicant, and the delegate, and agree on a revised method.

What questions can I ask a person with disability in a selection process?

The selection committee (and the delegate) has a duty to ensure that they are confident that the applicant can perform the inherent requirements of the position and may ask reasonable questions to gain that information. Importantly, this applies whether or not the person with disability has disclosed that disability. Some disabilities are obvious, and selection committees are entitled to ask appropriate questions to establish whether and how a person can meet the inherent requirements of a position.

Any questions should be reasonable and directly relevant to the questions at hand, namely:

  • What information is necessary to establish the relative merit of each applicant for the position in question?
  • What impact will the disability have on the capacity of the applicant to meet the inherent requirements of the position, with reasonable adjustments being made?

To reduce the potential for misunderstandings or concern that the questions are being asked for discriminatory purposes, the selection committee should explain to the applicant why these questions are being asked.

The selection committee may also need to ask similar questions of an applicant’s referees. Once again, those questions must be reasonable and directly relevant to establishing the merit of the applicant and their capacity to perform the inherent requirements of the job.

People conducting selection exercises also need to remember that applicants may not have disclosed any disability to their referees. When collecting referee comment about the performance of an applicant they will need to be mindful that they are dealing with personal information and have responsibilities under the Privacy Act to disclose that information properly.

Interviews

Face-to-face interviews are a common part of selection procedures in the APS. Conducted properly they can help to fill out the understanding of the merits of each applicant for the position(s).

The following material sets out some tips for interviewing people with particular forms of disability, and should provide some assistance to members of selection panels. However, they may not be appropriate or enough in all cases. When in doubt, it is always good practice to ask the person with disability, respectfully and courteously, whether there are particular things that the panel can do that will make the interview more effective for them and the panel members.

Mobility disabilities

  • Take into account any access issues communicated by the applicant before the interview.
  • Check whether the applicant has a disability that affects their ability to write. If timed and written assessments are used, allow additional time.
  • Ensure crutches, canes or wheelchairs can be kept within reach of the applicant.
  • Be aware that some wheelchair users may prefer to transfer themselves into an office chair for the duration of the interview.
  • When speaking to a person in a wheelchair or on crutches for more than a few moments, sit down so you are at that person's eye level.
  • If the person uses a support animal, ensure the animal is allowed into the building and has access to water.

Vision impairment

Prior to the interview:

  • ask the individual whether and how you can assist them:
    • only guide a person with a vision impairment after they have accepted your offer
    • the individual will advise you what is most comfortable for them
    • in general, a person with a vision impairment will prefer to hold your arm (just above the elbow) rather than have you hold and guide them.

When interviewing a person with a vision impairment:

  • always identify yourself and introduce anyone else who may be present
  • face the applicant:
    • while they may not be able to see you (this depends on the type of vision impairment), they may be perceptive to the direction of the sound
    • by facing the applicant you are demonstrating that you are interested and focused
    • by looking away (which changes the direction of your voice) you may give the impression of lack of interest
  • extend a verbal welcome if the applicant does not extend their hand to shake hands
  • when offering seating, place the applicant's hand on the back or arm of the chair and provide a verbal cue
  • indicate in advance when you will be moving from one place to another, and let the applicant know when the conversation is coming to an end
  • if interviewing in a group situation, provide vocal cues by announcing the name of the person you are talking to
  • speak in a clear and normal voice
  • try to verbalise your feelings and thoughts to improve communication
  • indicate to the applicant if you pause to take some notes: they may not always hear you writing
  • explain the 'concept' as opposed to the 'representation' if there are diagrams that need to be discussed. For example, at an interview you may like to discuss an organisational hierarchy by talking about the people that they will be working to in a hierarchy, and how they relate to each other, rather than trying to describe the boxes on the paper chart.

After the interview, it is appropriate to ascertain that the applicant can leave the building comfortably. You may offer to escort them to the foyer, or to a taxi rank.

Hearing impairment

When interviewing a person who is Deaf or hearing-impaired:

  • if you need to attract the applicant's attention, touch them lightly on the shoulder
  • if the applicant can lip-read, look directly at them when you speak and keep your hands away from your face
  • be aware that it is often difficult to lip read what is being said by people with beards
  • speak clearly and at a natural pace and do not exaggerate your lip movements or raise your voice
  • speak expressively, as the person may rely heavily on your facial expressions, gestures, and eye contact to fully understand what you are saying:
    • do not raise your voice, as it distorts sounds received through hearing devices
  • be prepared to use visual aids to assist with understanding
  • if an interpreter is present:
    • speak to the applicant, not the interpreter, and maintain eye contact with the applicant
    • it is usual for the interpreter to sit beside the interviewer and across from the applicant

Speech impediments

When interviewing a person with a speech impediment:

  • speak as you usually would. Avoid speaking slowly or too simply unless you know that their vocabulary is limited
  • minimise stress—stress can exacerbate a speech impairment
  • give the applicant your complete attention when talking to them
  • ask short questions that require short answers or a nod of the head
  • listen attentively and keep your manner encouraging rather than correcting
  • allow the applicant to give answers in writing
  • resist the temptation to speak for the person if they are having difficulty expressing what they want to say
  • if an applicant's speech is difficult to understand, don't pretend that you can understand:
    • let the applicant know that you didn't understand them
    • if you still cannot understand, ask them to rephrase what they are saying
    • if you still have difficulty understanding, find out whether they use any communication aids
  • don't raise your voice—most people with a speech impairment can hear and understand.

Intellectual disability

  • people with intellectual disability may often wish to bring a support person, often a person from an employment support agency, to interviews with them. Respect the applicant's right to have another person present for support at the interview, but talk directly with the applicant and not to the person accompanying them
  • speak the applicant's language:
    • try to develop an understanding of their level of language and work hard to communicate at that level
  • check that the applicant has understood what you are saying
  • be prepared to rephrase what you are saying
  • wait patiently for responses
  • always endeavour to use plain English in speaking and writing:
    • avoid jargon
    • explain the use of commonly used acronyms or abbreviations
  • use examples to explain complex ideas
  • ask questions which require simple answers
  • don't be patronising
  • don't make assumptions about the applicant's capabilities, but instead, provide an opportunity for them to learn new tasks and skills
  • be prepared to discuss other things like sport, weather or business as you might with any other applicant.

Some selection procedures, such as aptitude testing, can disadvantage people with an intellectual disability. Therefore, it is important to be sure that any testing is consistent with the inherent requirements of a position. As far as possible, it may be advisable to assess the applicant by observing demonstrated competencies rather than through written or oral assessments.

Psychiatric disability

People with a mental illness can feel more anxious and nervous at interviews than other applicants. It is important to:

  • cultivate a relaxed manner and setting
  • if using formal assessments, set a time suitable for the candidate:
    • some people with a mental illness perform better in the morning or at times related to their taking of medication
  • let the candidate know in advance that 'time out' is available or that, if necessary, the assessment can be suspended until another time
  • provide ongoing feedback to minimise stress during assessment
  • ask if there is anything you can do to settle nerves or assist them to feel calm
  • provide prompts if the applicant seems unable to answer the question
  • ask one question at a time.

Learning disability

When interviewing a person with a learning disability:

  • remember that they do not have an intellectual disability
  • be prepared—find out what their disability is and ask them what adjustments they require during an interview. This might include, for example:
    • putting questions in writing
    • providing them with the questions shortly before the interview to allow the person extra time to prepare
    • providing written material in a larger font or in double space
    • making line guides available or allowing the person to use their own
    • putting written questions orally
    • asking questions one at a time
    • providing scratch paper to work out problems
    • allowing them to bring a friend
    • extending the time of the interview to allow the interviewee to collect their thoughts
    • accepting pauses to allow the interviewee to process the question
    • allowing the person to answer in writing
    • using telephone interviews to allow, for example, people with language disorders to collect their thoughts in a low pressure environment.

Other selection processes

Apart from the traditional interview agencies can also use other forms of selection assessment, including work sample tests, assessment centres, behavioural questionnaires, ability tests, and structured behavioural interviews.

The range of potential disabilities that applicants for selection may have is almost unlimited. It is impossible to predict at the outset what the impact of those disabilities, if any, will be on their ability to present their claims fairly in the context of different assessment techniques. Some selection processes may be very positive for people with some types of disability, and others less so.

Given that, the important thing for people conducting selection exercises will be a preparedness to consider unanticipated requests for changes to those processes and make reasonable adjustments, where necessary, to allow an applicant or applicants to compete fairly. This may even mean that a different process will need to be adopted for some applicants.

Assessing the ability to perform the inherent requirements

Whatever form of assessment is used, the assessment process is also a time when people conducting a selection can explore with an applicant the impact of any disability they may have on their capacity to perform the inherent requirements of the position and any adjustments that they may require to contribute fully to the agency’s work.

This can often be a difficult discussion for both the selector and the applicant. Ultimately, however, the selector’s job is to make a finding about the relative merits of the applicants and this includes an assessment of their capacity to perform the inherent requirements of the duties. They have an obligation to be confident that the decision or recommendation they make is properly informed.

This principle applies whether or not the applicant has disclosed their disability. So, for example, if the applicant clearly has a disability which has not been disclosed, the selector may still undertake appropriate inquiries.

Where this conversation occurs:

  • it should generally be at the end of the assessment so as not to disturb the presentation of the applicants’ claims
  • it may be advisable to frame questions in terms of how the applicant would see themselves as performing particular inherent requirements—if this has not already been established—and what adjustments, if any, they might need to do that
  • the chair of the panel should make it clear that where the person can perform the inherent requirements of the position with reasonable adjustment having been made, their disability is not relevant to the selection process.  

What is the impact on the selection committee report?

In most cases the chair of a selection committee is responsible for arranging the preparation of the final report to the delegate. The report should be an objective and frank account of the applicants’ claims against the selection criteria.

The Public Service Act does not prescribe the form of a record of decision about the selection of employees. However, the report should clearly enable the delegate to demonstrate that the legal obligations in the selection of staff have been met. Individual agencies may have specific guidelines in place.

Where an applicant with disability is recommended for promotion, reassignment of duties, or engagement, the selection committee may wish to use the report to set out for the information of the delegate any adjustment necessary to employ that person in that position. Information of this character will allow the delegate to make an assessment of whether or not that adjustment would be reasonable.

Where an applicant has been ruled out of consideration by the selection panel only because of a view that he or she would not be able to perform the inherent requirements of the position because of a disability, the panel should set out their reasons for this conclusion, supported by evidence.

In either case, if the delegate is not satisfied that the report contains the information necessary to make the decision to promote, assign duties or engage a person for the employment opportunity, he or she may conduct any necessary further enquiries or direct the panel to make further enquiries. This includes any discussions that the delegate may wish to have to establish what is properly necessary to meet reasonable accommodation needs.

How do I make the decision?

Determining relative merit is not a simple, mechanistic process that tots up the scores of each individual applicant against each of the selection criteria based on what they report. It often requires considered judgement and subtlety in approach.

For example, the working history and achievements of a person with disability may have been affected negatively by illness which may or may not now be under control.

The task faced in a selection process is to assess the relative merit of the person, that is, their capacity to perform the duties of the position, as it now exists. Assessing the past performance of any applicant is often a matter of fine judgement. Selection panels and delegates will need to act with care to ensure that they have achieved the right balance where that performance may have been affected by an applicant’s disability. It is appropriate to take into account the past performance of each applicant, but the achievements of a person should be considered having regard to their full circumstances, including the impact of any such disability. However, their current and projected capacity should be assessed having regard to what they can do now and into the future assuming proper reasonable adjustment.

This may mean, for example, accepting as a form of reasonable adjustment that some employees are at relatively high risk of illness over time, and associated unpredictable absences. That is true for a whole range of employees, only some of whom have a disability. On the other hand, it is not true for every person with disability. As shown elsewhere in this toolkit, there is little evidence to suggest that, on average, people with disability are less productive than other members of the workforce.

What feedback should I give?

Providing feedback, especially to unsuccessful applicants, is an important part of any selection process. For people with disability, however, it may be particularly important because in the absence of detailed and constructive advice they may be inclined to assume that their disability was a factor in their not getting the job.

Preparing to give feedback can also be a useful discipline for people conducting a selection process because it requires them to focus carefully on exactly why people were successful or not in their application, irrespective of whether they have a disability. It can also be helpful in keeping valuable applicants interested in applying for subsequent vacancies in that agency or in that area. In other words, this is simply one more area in which the ‘right thing’ to do for applicants with disability is good practice for everyone.

In the APS, effective feedback:

  • is as constructive as possible, recognising strengths as well as weaknesses in the person’s claims
  • is limited to the selection at hand
  • is able to discuss areas where the person might
    • consider developing themselves in relation to the duties of the position and the selection criteria
    • present their claims against the selection criteria more effectively in the various inputs available to the panel i.e. written application, additional assessment
  • recognises the 'relative' nature of the selection.

50 http://www.apsc.gov.au/regional

51 http://www.eeo.nsw.gov.au/disabil/employ/default.html

52 http://www.humanrights.gov.au/disability_rights/faq/Employment/employment_faq_1.html#discrimination

53 PS Act, s.10(1)(c)

54 http://scaleplus.law.gov.au/html/instruments/0/26/pdf/2004072601.pdf

55 http://www.apsc.gov.au/circulars/circular066.htm

56 http://www.jobaccess.gov.au/JOAC/Employers/Getting+advice+and+support/ProvidersofAustralianGovtEmploymentServices.htm

57 https://jobsearch.gov.au/Login/Login.aspx?WHCode=0

58 http://www.dwa.org.au/

59 http://www.crsaustralia.gov.au/

60 http://www.apsc.gov.au/getitright

61 http://www.apsc.gov.au/getitright

62 People with disability are not required to disclose that they have a disability. It should not be assumed that a person who does not disclose that they have a disability is ‘able-bodied’ merely because they have not made a disclosure.