The Cornell Just-in-Time Toolkit for Managers

Tips, checklists, and resources to help managers lead a disability inclusive workforce.

Topic #4
About Hiring:
The Many Faces of Talent

Question your automatic assumptions  

The most significant barrier faced by individuals with disabilities is often not the disability itself. Rather, it is the attitudes of others—the lowered expectations, the fear of demands, and the quick presumption of incompetence.

Individuals with disabilities cope in ways that might surprise you

In 1993, NY Yankees pitcher Jim Abbott threw a 4-0 no-hitter against Cleveland. But if he would have been interviewed for a job in many organizations today, the hiring manager might have quickly “written him off” and automatically assumed he would not be able to do even simple tasks. Why? This major league baseball player was born without his right arm. Individuals with disabilities have developed coping strategies you may not even realize. Never assume you know what an applicant or employee with a disability can or cannot do. 

Everyone has a right to be considered for a job 

No one can be eliminated from the hiring process just because they have a disability. Any applicant must be allowed to move as far along in the hiring process as their skills, competencies and experiences can take them. This means that all steps of the hiring process need to be made accessible, from online job postings and job descriptions, to screening, to tests/assessments, and the interview.   

What can managers ask during a hiring situation? 

Job applicants have a legally protected right to choose whether they will disclose a disability to a hiring manager. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the only question a manager can ask in a hiring situation is, “Can you perform the essential functions of this job with or without a disability accommodation?” And this question is simply a yes or no question. It is not an invitation to discuss possible accommodations. Applicants cannot be asked questions that would force them to disclose a disability, such as…

  • Do you have any disability that would prevent you from doing this job?
  • Are you taking any prescription medications?
  • Will you need any accommodations in order to do this job?
  • Have you ever collected workers compensation?

Applicants who don’t disclose a disability during hiring are not “lying.”   

If an applicant believes in good faith that they can perform the essential functions of the job (even if they believe they will need an accommodation to do so), they are not “lying” if they choose not to disclose a disability during hiring. They are exercising their legally protected right. If it is shown after an offer has been made that the applicant cannot perform the essential functions of the job even when using a disability accommodation, the job offer can be withdrawn. But the offer cannot be withdrawn just because the employee needs an accommodation.

What if the applicant decides to disclose a disability?

Sometimes, applicants might decide they want to tell about their disability. In this case, remind the applicant of Cornell’s commitment to diversity and disability inclusiveness. Let the applicant take the lead on deciding how much they would like to discuss about their disability and accommodation needs if hired.  Politely thank the applicant for sharing during this conversation, but avoid a discussion of the applicant’s disability or medical condition. Do not make a note of the applicant’s medical condition in the hiring personnel file. Refer the applicant to Cornell’s Medical Leaves Administration office  if they have any questions about disability accommodations. 

What’s the Difference?  Disclosure and self-identification of disability

Because Cornell is a federal contractor, we have new requirements under federal law (RA Section 503) to track the number of applicants with disabilities.    So many managers are confused about the “when, how and where” of disability disclosure. Disability disclosure is about an individual and their need to do something differently to get the job done. Self-identification is about collecting organizational data and should not be tied to an individual.    

  • Disability disclosure. When an applicant tells their manager or someone in HR about their disability because they need to do something different during their application process or do their job differently they have disclosed a disability.  This type of disclosure is tied to an individual.  Though applicants may decide to disclose a disability, hiring managers cannot ask questions that would force them to talk about a disability.  If an applicant chooses to talk about a disability during hiring, a hiring manager can ask the applicant to fill out the disability self-identification form described below.
  • Self-identification of disability.  To comply with the new federal requirements, Cornell must track the number of applicants with disabilities.   This data is a key part of gauging the success of Cornell diversity and disability inclusiveness efforts. To do this, we use a form called the invitation to voluntarily self-identify as a person with a disability. Disclosing a disability on this form is voluntary and confidential. That is, this disability information cannot be tracked to a particular individual. This information is a data point used only to improve our overall diversity efforts. Job applicants automatically are asked to self-identify in the electronic application system.  New hires are automatically asked when they activate their NetIDs prior to their first day of work.  Cornell periodically surveys employees and invites them to self-identify.  Employees can also choose to self-identify through the Workday system at any time. Employees or applicants may sometimes mistakenly give this self-identification form to the manager. In this case, don’t accept this form and don’t record the employee’s self-identification in any personnel record. Rather, direct the employee to self-identify through Workday or to  send this form to Cornell’s Office of Inclusion and Workforce Diversity

150 Day Hall
Ithaca, NY 14853
(607) 255-3976
(607) 255-7066 (TTY)

Managers can hire the most qualified applicant 

The ADA does not prevent managers from hiring the most qualified job applicant. Applicants with disabilities are not given any special favors or privileges during hiring; they must be qualified for the job. Just because an applicant needs a disability accommodation, does not mean the applicant is less qualified than others to perform a particular essential function. Managers and supervisors need to continuously evaluate position descriptions to ensure that physical and mental qualifications are accurate and do not unnecessarily exclude individuals with disabilities.  Continue to work with Medical Leaves when an employee has requested a workplace accommodation.       

Demonstrating their ability to do the job  

Any applicant, including those with disabilities, can be asked to show how they would perform an essential function of the job. But as a hiring manager, ask this same question of all applicants in the same job category. Also, applicants with disabilities can be allowed to use a disability accommodation in showing how they would perform this task. 

Ask them what you’d ask anyone else:  How do you plan to be effective? 

How does the applicant plan to be effective in doing the job? This is a question you could ask any applicant, including those with disabilities.   As with any other applicant, begin with the essential (main) functions of the job. For each essential job function, ask applicants about the experience and skills they would bring to task and how they plan to be effective in performing the work. If the applicant chooses to discuss their disability or a possible  accommodation need, simply listen. Suspend your prior assumptions and keep an open mind.  Visit the Disability Accommodation FAQs page for more information about accommodations. 

Hiring veterans 

Veterans bring a lot to our workplace: teamwork, resilience, problem-solving ability, skills, and discipline. This is as true for veterans with disabilities as it is for others.  Whether or not a veteran applicant chooses to tell about a disability, all applicants who are veterans should be made aware of Cornell’s resources for veterans. To find out more, visit Cornell's Military Community Resources. Also, skills learned during military service do not always translate easily into civilian language.  To find out more about translating military skills to the civilian workplace, go to the Veterans’ Job Exchange Skills Translator or to the Career Onestop Military Skills Translator.