PEAT Talks Transcript: Teaching Accessible eRecruiting as a Business Strategy

Hello and welcome to PEAT Talks, the virtual speaker series from the Partnership on Employment and Accessible Technology. On the third Thursday of every month PEAT Talks showcases various organizations and individuals whose work and innovations are advancing accessible technology in the workplace. My name is Corinne Weible. I'm the deputy project director for PEAT and I'll be hosting today's talk.

Before we get started I'm going to quickly review a view logistics. We will have time for questions and answers, so please enter your questions in the chat window. You can also use the chat window if you are having any technical difficulties, and we will do our best to resolve any issues. We'll also have some polls as part of the presentation today, and if you prefer you can also put your answer in the chat window and we'll keep it in mind when we total up the responses.

And you can download the presentation on PEATWorks.org and an archived recording will be posted online following today's events. We will be live tweeting today's events from @PEATWorks, P-E-A-T-W-o-r-k-s, so please feel free to join us and follow along using the hashtag PEATTalks.

Introduction

Today PEAT is pleased to welcome Rachel Kerrigan, the community resource manager at Perkins School for the Blind. In this role, she manages the Perkins Business Partnership, an alliance with Massachusetts employers committed to breaking down barriers to employment and expanding opportunities for individuals who are blind and visually impaired.

Today Rachel will be discussing the hiring gap for new graduates with disabilities and how and why the business partnership partnerships partnered with Harvard Extension School to create an online course for HR professionals to help bridge this gap. PEAT is very excited about this project and has also been involved in contributing course materials. The need is clear, because finding a job can be a difficult process for new graduates with disabilities, particularly when inadvertent barriers have been set up between HR professionals and the qualified candidates eager to connect with them. And much of this problem can be related to technology in the workplace, because employers are using online tools to recruit, organize, and follow up with job applicants.

With most of today's employers using some form of web-based recruiting to evaluate and hire job applicants, it's more important than ever to understand why accessibility matters to e-Recruiting, as detailed in the 2015 PEAT Report "Is HR Tech Hurting Your Bottom Line." E-recruiting can create major barriers to access when done incorrectly. In fact, PEAT's nationwide survey of job seekers with disabilities, 46% of the participants rated their last experience in applying for a job online as, quote, difficult to impossible. Of those, 9% were unable to complete the application, and 24% required assistance from the employer maintaining the application. And that matters, because if technology is limiting the pool of applicants, employers are missing out on top talent.

In response, last year PEAT created the Web Resource Talent Works. Talent Works provides key resources to help hiring managers and recruiters to ensure that the technologies that they are using are as accessible as possible to job seekers with disabilities. And we were delighted when Perkins reached out to us about their own research on barriers to employment, and their plans for an online course to help bridge that gap. With that, I will turn things over to Rachel.

Presentation

Thanks, Corinne and thank you to the entire PEAT team for inviting me to do this talk and for collaborating on the online course, which I'll talk a little bit more about later. So, first, I'm going to address a question, "Why Perkins School for the Blind? Why is Perkins School for the Blind educating businesses?"

Well, when our president and CEO, Dave Power, came on board in 2014, he made the transition to adult living one of our main priorities. And transition basically just means that we want to set our students up for success once they leave Perkins, so that once they leave our environment they can land and, hopefully, find a job. So the ways that we're doing that on campus, we're preparing students with independent living and vocational skills. In fact, we have a number of students that have some part-time jobs on campus, like delivering flowers or serving sandwiches at our café. And then off campus we partner with some local businesses to place students in part-time jobs. And we also educate the business community about accessibility and workplace inclusion.

And the way we do that is through our Perkins Business Partnership, which was created almost three years ago. The Perkins Business Partnership is an alliance between Blindness agencies and over 30 employers in Massachusetts that are dedicated to breaking down barriers to employment for people with visual impairments.

So this slide shows just a sampling of our group. We have about 38 employers and then we also have the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind and the Carroll Center for the Blind involved. Our two main goals right now are opening up opportunities for people who are blind and visually impaired, and this is both in the career exploration stage. So with our students we want them to learn more about the types of jobs that are available and to get some hand-on experience, and then we're also helping connect adults who are blind and visually impaired do a wider network of employers that are actually interested in proactively hiring people with visual impairments, which is very unique.

And the other goal is to really develop best practices for businesses. There's just this need among the business community for more information, more guidance for being more inclusive for people with disabilities. So we provide a local forum where businesses can share best practices and learn more. So that's just a short introduction about what we do.

And another question, why is this important to businesses? Well one of the main ones is that I think businesses are learning that diversity is much more than race and gender. And they know that they're actually learning the value of including people of all backgrounds and abilities. And the innovation that can result if you have a really diverse workforce. Secondly, it's a competitive strategy. Some of the most forward-thinking companies out there are actually making a huge commitment to accessibility and inclusion by appointing chief accessibility officers and inclusion officers, and this really sends a message to the entire organization that it's a priority, and it's embedded into the business. It's not tacked on as a community relations initiative.

Lastly, I think this is important to businesses because the disability community is really an untapped talent pool, and especially if you're a company looking to grow really fast you should learn how to take advantage of this untapped talent pool. And also on the reverse, hiring people with disabilities can also help retain current talent, because employees really value inclusion nowadays.

So, to talk a little bit more about the course, last year -- it was around this time last year, actually, we started developing a curriculum for a new edX course called "Introduction to Inclusive Talent Acquisition. And the course is aimed at hiring managers and recruiter, and it aims to teach them the skills they need to attract, interview, and on board qualified candidates with disabilities.

We had a great team at the Harvard Extension School who helped us develop the course and partner with edX, and we also got a lot of help from PEAT and their material related on accessibility technology. So the course ran in the fall and we have a session going on right now from January 10th to March 6th, and then again from March 14th to May 8th. The links and the PowerPoint, we'll actually get you if you'd like to enroll. Since it is on edX, it is a free course and anyone can sign up. There are virtually no barriers to signing up for the course. So I could keep talking about it, but I think I'd like to play a little trailer video to tell you a little bit more.

A logo, Perkins School for the Blind. Now, a clean shaven gray-haired man in a dark suit stands in a shady city garden.

Hi, I'm Dave Power CEO for the Perkins School for the Blind and the parent a Perkins graduate. One of the biggest challenges for individuals with disabilities is to transition to adult living, in particular, how to get a job.

We approached all the folks that come into our lives with an assumption of what they can or cannot do, or what they're all ability. When it comes to disability we have a greater awareness of what's different between this person and myself.

Unemployment among people with disabilities is shockingly high. To address this issue, the Perkins School organized a forum of large business employers in the Boston area called the Perkins Business Partnership. Over the course of the last two years, 30 employers, including leaders such as Partner's Healthcare, Tuft's Health Plan, Harvard Pilgrim Healthcare, State Street Bank and the Mass Commission for the Blind got together and shared research, experience, and best practices, and we have distilled all of this information into a four-session course called "Introduction to Inclusive Talent Acquisition."

This course is for hiring managers, recruiters, and, really, anybody who is hiring individuals with disabilities. While the examples in this course feature individuals with visual impairment, the lessons for hiring managers are applicable to anybody with a disability.

So why should you that I can this course? First of all, it's very actionable. Each module will give you very practical steps to implement in your organization. It's quick. You will be through the course in two to three hours. We will connect you to an online community of other hiring managers who are wrestling with the same issues so that you can continue to share best practices in the future.

Inclusion is more than a buzz word. This course will not only help you raise awareness throughout the organization, but you'll also transform your culture into a more inclusive work environment, and in turn, that more inclusive work environment will allow you to bring in more customers and hire even more talented employees.

Companies who do figure out how to best attract all people, we figure out how to best provide them the resources that they need to do their job and to excel will have a competitive advantage.

All businesses are in competition for the same talent pools, and so this is an untapped talent pool that people should look at.

We're very creative, resourceful.

They're candidates that have navigated life in a way that reflects how they're going to do their job.

You can't be afraid of what you can't see, so no fear in life.

We're just getting started.

The speakers in this video included Oz Mandejar of Partners Continuing Care; Tim Dutterer of Technology Practice Strategy Consulting Firm, and Julie DeLillo of Perkins School for the Blind.

Okay, so I think some people might have had some issues watching the video. If you missed it, the link is in the PowerPoint to the YouTube channel. It has audio description and captions.

Okay, so a little recap of how the pilot went in the fall. We had over a thousand participants, which is really fantastic, because going into it we only were expecting about 250. That was our kind of reach goal. So we had over a thousand people participating from 115 different countries. We were really surprised to see that 30% were from the U.S. We thought a majority of them would be. And then we had 12% from India and 3% from Canada. And over a hundred other countries involved too, which is really unique.

One thing that's great about the course is that it's self-paced, so that means that all the course materials is available at once, and you can access it whenever you want. In total, we estimate that the course takes between three-and-a-half hours. So if you want to do it one afternoon you could, or if you wanted to break it up between the eight-week periods you could.

We did a little survey of the participants just to see who was involved in the course, because we aimed it at hiring managers and recruiters, but we got other types of occupations involved as well. So we had 28% that were human resources professionals; 26% that were in senior management or leadership; 16% were recruiters; and only 4% were hiring managers, which was a little surprising. And for the next sessions of the course we're definitely trying to push it out to managers as well, because they're such a vital part of the employment process. And diversity inclusion is not just HR's responsibilities.

So I'd like to do a similar poll with all the participants right now just to get an idea of what you guys do for a living. So the question is, which most closely describes your role, and the options are senior management or leadership, human resources professional, disability advocate, hiring manager, recruiter, or other? Now, as Corrine mentioned at the beginning of the poll, it is not a hundred percent accessible. So if you can't vote in the poll window you can write in the chat and you can also tweet @PEATWorks with the hashtag PEATTalks. So I'll just wait a minute to see those roll in.

Great. Well it looks, from the chat and the poll, it looks like we have a majority of people in disability services field and a lot of human resources professionals. Thanks, you guys, for participating.

Okay. So you're probably wondering, yes, there were a lot of people involved in the course, but was it actually successful? We think the course -- the pilot was really successful. We had a pre- and post-survey to gauge people's knowledge of the subjects that the course taught. So the results showed that before the course only less than 30% of participants knew strategies for recruiting, interviewing, and onboarding people with disabilities, and after the course, it was over 89% of participants had competencies with this knowledge. And anecdotally we had some really great feedback from the surveys about how practical that the course was, that the videos were fantastic. I'm not going to brag too much, but that just gives you a sampling of the feedback that we received.

So now that you have an idea of what the course is like, I'd just like to pause for some questions, if you guys have any. If you have questions, please put them in the chat window. And you can also tweet at @PEATWorks.

Okay. So I'm seeing someone ask about going back to the survey results, and where can you access the course? It's on edX right now. The link is in the PowerPoint. So once you guys have access to that afterwards, you can also search on edX the course name, "Introduction to Inclusive Talent Acquisition." The winter session is open right now until March 6th, so you can sign up any time as long as you finish all the course material before March 6, and it's edx.org. Thanks for adding the link there, Corinne.

Sure thing.

So there's another question from Bethany. Does this course go into specific types of disabilities people live with and how interaction with these candidates may differ? So we feature a lot of folks, mostly those with visual impairments in the course; however, the lessons are applicable. So I would say it's more of a standard approach. We wanted to kind of tow the line of giving a ton of information about a disability versus giving people practical strategies.

Any other questions? Okay. So the next part is going to give you a little taste of what the course is like. And we're also, since this is a PEAT Talk, we're going to use PEAT's very helpful employment lifecycle framework. So throughout the course we use a lot of different type of media to explain the lessons. We have videos, which are a big part of the course. There's written content. There are discussion boards where you can talk to other professionals, and then also we use some scenario activities. So in every session of the course, there are four of them, you will see these two main characters. They're images on the PowerPoint right now that are profiles of two of the characters.

So the first main character is Dominique. She is a manager at Vaness Incorporated, a made-up company. Outside of work she is a hot yoga enthusiast. She sells handmade rings on Etsy, and she has an adorable Corgi named Adele. And her situation is she has an opening in her department for a head customer service rep and there's a lot of pressure on her to fill the position as soon as possible. It's one that hasn't kept people around for a while, so she's looking for a candidate that wants to grow within the company and stay there.

Now our other main character is Sebastian. He, right now is working at Vaness' competitor. He's a customer service representative, and he's been doing really well there, but he's ready to take the next step, so he's looking for new jobs right now. Since we're going into hobbies, outside of work, he's a cross-fitter, and he also likes to bake. And cherry double chocolate chip cookies are his specialty apparently. He also just happens to be blind.

So these characters might seem a little bit silly. But we found they're actually a really effective way to make the information more meaningful and to force participants to kind of put themselves in these character's shoes. So what is Dominique thinking when she's going through the hiring process, and what kind of barriers is Sebastian facing throughout? And by the end of the course, we think that you'll actually become a little attached to the characters.

So we're going to go through four little scenarios. The first one is in the recruitment stage. So paper forms, I'd be willing to bet that most organizations rely on paper forms, even just a little bit. In this scenario Sebastian shows up for his first interview with Dominique. He didn't disclose his visual impairment during the phone interview, and Dominique realizes that she has this paper form for him that's obviously not accessible. So what should she do right now in the situation? We have three options, and, if you'd like, you can put your answer in the chat. So our three options are; one, fill out the form with Sebastian and write in his responses; two, send Sebastian the form in an accessible electronic format following the interview; or, three, reschedule the interview?

So I see some people answering right now. That's great. This is a little bit of a trick question, in that A or B would be okay. One of the big lessons that we try to incorporate into the course is when in doubt, ask the candidate. So the first two options would be acceptable, but you want to know what Sebastian prefers. Maybe he's not comfortable with, you know, saying his answers out loud to Dominique. Maybe he would rather do it independently. So it's always best to ask the candidate.

Now the bigger question is what should Dominique do in the future? Now the hiring manager and HR both have a role in making this process accessible, so what should she do now that she knows it isn't accessible? What we think would be the best solution is to really talk to HR and see if they can make the form into an accessible web format. Also, this is an opportunity to say ahead of time we have paper forms. We don't have them in an accessible format right now, so we just want to know if you'd require any accommodations. And I see someone said that in the comments too, so kudos to you.

Now the next scenario is in the hiring and onboarding stage. So after the little situation with the paper form, Sebastian still rocks the interview and he landed the job, which is really exciting. Dominique is really excited for him to arrive, but she realizes that their new hire manual is only available in a printout format. This actually happened to me when I started at Perkins too. I received it in a binder. So what should she do now that she realizes that this isn't accessible and will impact his onboarding? So we have two options here, and, again, you can put in your thoughts in the chat window.

The first would be should she scan the new hire manual and e-mail it to Sebastian or should she reach out to Sebastian and see what format he prefers, electronic documents? Yep, all you guys are correct. So, yes, you should ask his preference, because what might happen if you scan the document, the PDF is not going to be accessible most likely.

But the bigger question is what should you do in the future? So now that she knows this portion of the onboarding process is inaccessible, she should really convert it into an accessible electronic document. One, this would mean that everyone would be treated the same. Everyone would have equal access to this information. And also, it's just better for the environment too, and you do not have to print out all those papers.

Okay. So moving on to the third scenario, and this is in work immersion and productivity stage. So this is a scenario that I've actually heard of happening quite a bit. So Sebastian has been working at Vaness for three months, and he's loving it. But he gets word that the company is changing their customer relationship management software, and this is the software he uses every day, pretty much all day for his job when he's interfacing with clients. So he meets with Dominique and he tells her that he's worried that the new software might not be accessible. And it probably wasn't even on Dominique's radar. What should she do now? So the three options, and, again, you can play along -- ask IT if Sebastian can test out a demo of the software; B, ask IT if the software is accessible to screen readers; or, C reevaluate Sebastian's job responsibilities? And I see a couple people answered A or B. Yeah, both of those would be correct.

Now this is a bit of a tricky scenario. It's not one that there's a clear answer to, because Dominique likely didn't have any control over the new software purchases. It was probably made way beyond her department and way out of her control. So what should she do? So in the future, Dominique should continue to be an advocate and ensure the company makes accessibility a priority, especially since she has an employee working with her, reporting to her that has a disability. And as a manager, her role, she should frequently check in with her employees and make sure that everything is going well, even like three months into the job when it seems like he's settled. I think that's one misconception that once you make the hire that you figured everything out. But in reality, things are going to come up, whether your employee has a disability or not. So you should always leave the door open for feedback like that.

Oh, Bethany just brought up a good point. He may not be happy about being asked to test the software if it's not in his job description. That's a really good thought.

Okay. And the last scenario is about career advancement and promotions. So this is another one that I hear about a lot. An employee has been extremely successful in their role and wants to move up but they find more barriers, especially if they try to move into a different department. So Sebastian has been working at Vaness for two years now, and he's doing really well. As you can see, there's a little graphic on the PowerPoint that shows Sebastian at his computer, a bunch of coworkers around him smiling and clapping.

So Sebastian applies for a job in a different department. That would be basically a promotion. But he lost out to an external candidate, even though he has a lot of experience and great references within the company. So you see there's no options for this one, because it's not really as clear as the other scenarios, as I would say. So what should Dominique do now that Sebastian is having trouble? She's really invested in his growth. What do you guys think? I'd like to see some thoughts in the chat. I'll just wait a moment for people to type their responses.

So I see a couple responses that it has to come from Sebastian to question the hire, and she can support him in that. To understand the decision making of the hiring manager. That's a really good thought too, because there's likely a network of managers at Vaness and Dominique can talk manager to manager and kind of see what the rationale was and help other managers who maybe don't have an employee with a disability understand that it's not any different.

Arrange a job shadowing opportunity in another department that interests him. That's a great thought too that she could help with. Get clarity on the skills that differentiate the candidates and provide development on skills for Sebastian. Open the dialogue with him and see if he has an issue. Yep, all of you guys are getting it. I mean it's really asking the employee what their needs are and what their goals are, and then seeing what you can do to open doors within the organization. Looking out for bias if it was involved and how it might affect others, and proactively advocating for him for future opportunities. All these are great responses. You guys are pros.

Okay. So the takeaways for this little scenario activity is that there are both short-term and long-term solutions for these accessibility issues that come up. And a lot of times it really just depends what position you are in in the organization. But it's good to always be thinking of what can you do now, but more importantly, what can you do in the future to make sure that it's accessible and that you're not just putting a Band-Aid on a problem that will come up later.

Secondly is to think of the entire employment lifecycle not only hiring. A lot of companies when they start off on this journey to be more inclusive and to hire and to be more accessible, they're thinking about just getting to the onboarding stage when, really, they need to think about setting up the employee for success, and future employees for success in the organization.

And lastly, it's everyone's responsibility to make accessibility a priority. As you saw in these scenarios, there were different departments involved that are likely just not aware of these issues. It might be it's just not being aware, especially if they're not working directly with someone with a disability. So accessibility needs to be enforced by all departments and levels of an organization.

So I hope this gives you a little bit of a taste of the course and some of material, how it's delivered. And with that, I'd just like to go on to anymore questions that you guys have. And you can add them in the chat window or tweet @PEATWorks.

Thank you so much, Rachel. We'll just wait to see. If you have a question, please do add it to the chat window now. So, Rachel, I'm seeing one question.

Yeah, okay. I'm sorry.

The question is from [Kavan]. How often is the course offered?

So right now the course is being offered two more times for this academic year. So we have a session going on right now that ends March 6th, and then it will be offered again for eight weeks from March 14th to May -- I forgot the exact date, but it's early May. And then after that, we're going to have a summer break essentially and offer it again in the fall. Right now we're slated to have the course on edX for two years, so that would be including this year, and then the next academic year. And then we'll see where it goes from there.

Sounds great. And I actually have a follow-up question. It sounds like you received a great response from participants during the first session. I'm curious if you made any changes for the session that's going on now or if you plan to make any changes going forward?

Yeah, so one -- like I mentioned one of the most surprising things about the course is how international it was. And a lot of the material that we have, especially around policy, is really geared toward the U.S. So we don't have all the knowledge to be able to give information for every country that participated in the course, but we opened up a new discussion board where people can post resources related to their region. And I think that's one thing that people are always looking for, is what organizations around me can help me with this. So participants can go on there and put their region or country, state, city as the subject and then put a new resource that they're aware of, just to spread the knowledge.

And then also we changed up some of the content about accessibility to kind of differentiate between accommodations and accessibility and putting more calls to action in the last session of the course. So now that you've finished the course and you're all motivated to be accessible, what can you do now? So those are the changes that we made for this session in the limited time period that we had to do them.

And as I mentioned, we're offering the course again in the fall, so in between May and September we're going to be making some bigger changes. So possibly some new video content. We definitely like to do more of these scenario activities. We have a really intricate one in the second session that's about an interview scenario, and it's all about, like, what do you do when that candidate shows up and they haven't disclosed, and what should you ask and how do you get the information that you want to from the interview. So if we can do other branching scenarios like that where you kind of choose your adventure, we'd really like to do that.

That's great. You know one of the most impressive and, actually, surprising parts of this course to me was how interactive it was, especially given that the discussion boards really had some vibrant conversation and it really does seem to be connecting people in a really important bay way. Were you expecting that when you started the course?

You know, I wasn't sure at all. And I don't know if I should be saying this, but to be honest, I have never taken an edX course before. I have looked at them to kind of see what the layout is like and what other courses are doing. But I don't know what it's like to be a student, and sometimes moderating the discussion boards, I really had no idea what to expect. But there's been a lot of activity there, which I think is fantastic, because that's really probably, like, the most important piece of the course, is just interacting with like-minded professionals and seeing what you can learn from them.

And, also, we're learning from the discussion boards too, just as I'm learning from your guys' comments in the chat window right now. We're not the experts, you know. We have a lot to learn from others, so it's been a really great forum for that. And, frankly, I can't really keep up with the discussion board, so it's good other participants are engaging in dialogue with one another.

Okay. Well thank you, and I guess just one final question from me. Of course, I'd encourage everybody to enroll in the course. Beyond that, are there any recommendations specifically you'd have for people listening today about how they can use this course within their own companies and organizations to improve their inclusive hiring practices?

Yes. So I think the great thing about this course is that it's a free resource. So we all have strapped budgets, especially if we're working in nonprofits, and just to have this information in this form available for free. Each session of the course has a downloadable PDF, which kinds of summarizes the key takeaways and also gives some call to action that you can take to your organization, whether you're senior leadership or you're a junior recruiter. So we encourage people to download those resources and share them with everyone in your department, or all the managers at your organization, even if they're not taking the course. It's information that we just want to get in the hands of as many people as possible.

We also encourage people to show the videos if you can. Because I think just hearing from people with disabilities how they would like to be treated in the workplace is the most important part. I mean, people don't want to hear as much, like, managers telling you how to do it. It's more impactful to here it from people who have gone through the job search.

And, also, once you take the course, even after the course is finished -- and this is the case with all edX courses -- all of the material is in an archived format, so that means that you can watch all the videos. You can read all the content. You can go through the scenario activities any time. The only thing is you can't engage in the discussion boards. And we also encourage people, if you need a refresher, to sign up for the course again, because it is free. But, yeah, we encourage people for each session of the course to use those PDFs and to actually take the calls to action and implement them in your organization.

Great. And I see one additional question from Michael. It's, should we all ask our head of technology to designate someone as a contact on assistive technology? Then we'll have a clear point of contact to keep up us to date on advances in technology.

That's a great question. Let's see, I mean, it's going to differ from organization to organization. I think, like, the ideal is that IT has accessibility at the forefront of their minds when they're making decisions. So I see different companies do it in different ways depending on the size in the industry. So, like I mentioned, there are some companies that actually have a chief accessibility officer. But, definitely, if there's someone -- if you have a champion in the organization at different points, that's helpful to make sure that conflicts like the one in that scenario don't arise.

Conclusion

Okay. Well thank you so much, Rachel. I think that's about all the time we have today. But please join PEAT next Thursday, January 26, at 2:00 p.m. ET for a webinar with Gian Wild of Accessibility Oz to learn how to create accessible videos. We also encourage everyone to sign up for the Access Board's webinar the following Thursday, February 2nd at 2:00 p.m. Oh, sorry, I think that's one is at 2:30. Sorry. This webinar will discuss the details of the Section 508 refresh, which was recently announced and is taking effect next year. And, of course, please also mark your calendars for our next PEAT Talk on Thursday February 16th. You can find the registration details for all of these events at P-E-A-T-W-o-r-k-s, that's PEATWorks.org. And we will also be e-mailing out a notification in a week or two for the archived video and transcript from today's talk.

So I'd like to give a special thanks to Rachel for speaking with us today. It's a wonderful resource and I hope everyone does enroll. And thanks to all of you who took the time to join us today as well. We hope you enjoy the rest of your afternoon. Thank you.