Interviewing disabled job applicants - guidance for managers


Oxford Brookes is committed to ensuring that decisions related to the recruitment of staff are governed by the principles of equality of opportunity and that all applicants, disabled or not, are given a fair opportunity to work in an environment where they are valued and supported.

Oxford Brookes has committed itself to the 'Positive about Disabled People' scheme (the two-ticks symbol)
This means:

  • We are committed to encouraging disabled people to apply for jobs.
  • We guarantee to interview all applicants with a disability who meet the minimum criteria for a job vacancy and to consider them on their abilities.

The following pages provide some guidance on interviewing disabled candidates.

Information available to panels

All applicants for posts at the University are asked to complete an equal opportunity monitoring form. This information is confidential, will only be used for monitoring purposes and will not be shared with the interview panel.

Any candidates who identify they are disabled:

  • will be considered under the Positive about Disability/Two Ticks scheme unless they tick a box on the application form to opt out.
  • are asked if they have any access requirements or need reasonable adjustments at interview.

The interview panel will be informed if candidates wish to be considered under the scheme and/or identify any access requirements or reasonable adjustments they will need at interview. We will not necessarily know the nature of the disability at this point and it is not appropriate to ask at interview.

Recruiting and interviewing disabled applicants

Good practice at every stage of the recruitment and selection process will benefit all staff, not just those with a disability and will ensure that the University does not miss the potential offered by any candidate and that discrimination does not inadvertently occur.

One of the university’s objectives is to develop the quality and increase the diversity of its staff.  Increasing the number of disabled staff and students in our community sends a powerful message that Brookes is an inclusive community that values diversity.

Interview panels have a key role to play in ensuring that disabled people are given every opportunity to work in the University and that unnecessary barriers are not put in their way. 

Avoid assumptions

Generally people don’t apply for jobs which they don’t think that they can do.  If someone has applied for a role, it is wise not to make judgements about their ability on the basis of their disability or physical health.  Most people, disabled or not, look for challenging and fulfilling job opportunities. 

It is good practice to ensure that the all applicants understand the particular demands of the job and the working culture of the department eg deadlines, shift patterns, busy periods.  Individuals who have this information will be better placed to decide whether the role is a suitable one for them.

Advance adjustments to help disabled people participate at interview

All interviewees, regardless of whether they have declared a disability, must be informed of any tests or exercises in advance, and asked about any reasonable adjustments that they think might be needed.
Depending on an individual’s particular needs a variety of reasonable adjustments can be put in place to support disabled applicants at interview. This can range from changing the location for the interview, to adjustments such as providing information in alternative formats, or having a British Sign Language Interpreter or a support worker to attend the interview with the candidate. The panel will be informed by HR if the candidate will be accompanied.

Costs for such adjustments (and ongoing adjustments in the workplace) can often be funded through Access to Work (AtW), a government funded scheme run by Jobcentre Plus that provides advice and practical support to disabled people in or about to start paid employment.

Reasonable adjustments at interview


Ask similar questions of all candidates, but be aware that you may need supplementary questions to elicit the required detail from a disabled applicant or you may need to ask questions in a different way.

It is not appropriate to ask questions about their disability, but it is appropriate to ask for examples to demonstrate that they have the required skills and experience.

Adjustments in specific areas:

Some disabled people may, because of the nature of their disability, find some of the following areas difficult at interview, but this is not necessarily an indication of their ability to perform a role satisfactorily. If you are aware that a candidate has a particular disability it would be expected for the interview panel to make reasonable adjustments as suggested below.

Possible difficulty

Interviewer’s behaviour

Communication difficulties
(eg people on the autistic spectrum, learning difficulties, speech difficulties)

Use simple language, and rephrase if necessary.
Give people time to answer.

Applicant may not be able to articulate how they reached solutions (eg characteristic of neurodiverse people such as those on the autistic spectrum or with dyslexia.)

Focus on evidence of outcomes, rather than on the process of how they were achieved. 

Unusual appearance
(eg people with facial disfigurement, obvious physical disabilities; someone with dyspraxia may appear untidy and clumsy)

Be alert to unconscious prejudices.
Do not make assumptions about the person’s abilities on the basis of their appearance.

Social skills eg turn-taking, engaging with all panel members.

Chair of panel to explain the interview structure clearly at the start, and signal transitions from one panel member to another.

Making eye contact
(could be difficult for people with autism or some mental health conditions)

Be aware that some disabled applicants may not be able to sustain eye contact and interviewers should ensure they treat the person no differently as a result.

Unusual body language
(this may be affected by a physical or mental disability, including a tremor or tic.) 

Do not draw inferences from a person’s body language that are linked to their disability.

Understanding and responding appropriately to questions.

Some people may struggle with hypothetical questions.

Prompt the interviewee to go beyond yes/no answers.
Stop someone giving excessive detail.
Consider asking more focused questions.
Look for evidence of past behaviour, rather than asking hypothetical questions, if this will provide the evidence you need.

Applicant appears uncomfortable with lighting, ventilation or temperature (some disabled people are hypersensitive to sensory input)

Check whether the interviewee is comfortable, and adjust conditions.

Applicant fails to “sell themselves”.

Interviewer should consider evidence that person could do the role.  The stress of the interview may cause the applicant to perform less well than they would in a more relaxed setting.
If a disabled applicant is demonstrably stressed at interview, look to reassure and support that person and make additional efforts to help them feel at ease.

Applicant has little previous work experience. They may not recognise how evidence in a different context could be relevant eg that volunteering experience could be cited if asked about team work. 

Prompt the interviewee to think about other contexts.

Speech difficulties, including speech that is slurred or difficult to understand (eg due to cerebral palsy or hearing impairment).

Listen for key points.  Check your understanding by repetition or rephrasing.  Is most communication in this role by email?  Is clear spoken English required in the person specification?

An uneven pattern of skills, with very strong capabilities in some areas and weakness in others. 

The interviewer will have to decide whether exceptional skills in some areas outweigh weaknesses in others. 

Previous knowledge

It is often the case that members of panels can draw on previous knowledge of candidates in the interviewing process. This is true for all candidates and has to be handled with care in cases where that knowledge is not generally shared across panel members.

In a small number of cases it would be a reasonable adjustment for prior knowledge, derived for example from previous work with the University or from a work experience placement, to be shared with other panel members.  This may be appropriate when interviewing people with learning difficulties.  In this instance it is acceptable and reasonable for panels to take account of background additional evidence from references or conversations with line managers and/or support workers.

Support workers

Support workers may sometimes accompany a disabled person to an interview.  The interviewers should address questions to the candidate.   The support worker may rephrase the question, or prompt the candidate, but should not respond on their behalf.  An interpreter’s role is to ensure that both parties can understand each other clearly.  Although a support worker may be needed at an interview, and in the initial stages of employment, they may no longer be needed once the applicant is established in a job role.

Interviewing people with learning difficulties

People with learning difficulties may struggle in a formal interview, even with the aid of a support worker, yet may prove conscientious and reliable employees.  Managers may find practical exercises or visiting the applicant in an existing workplace helpful.  References from previous employers, support workers, or training providers should be taken into consideration.
People wjth learning difficulties may find it difficult to deal with hypothetical questions or to identify transferable skills.

Reasonable adjustments to criteria

When considering whether a disabled person is a suitable candidate, the panel needs to decide whether they could perform the job satisfactorily, with reasonable adjustments if needed.

 Adjustments could relate to:

Speed - a disabled person may be slower, but more accurate in performing a task which may be of benefit in certain roles.   Some disabled people are very good at doing regular, repetitive tasks, or may have a meticulous eye for detail.

Quantity - it is impossible to specify the amount of work required in most jobs.  There are normal variations between people, and this applies to disabled people as well.

Performance of all duties - if a disabled person could perform most of the role it would be reasonable to consider reassigning minor duties to another team member, asking the disabled person to take on more of the duties they could perform.

Full-time role - if a person is unable to work full-time because of their disability, explore options for part-time work and job-sharing.  This is an opportunity to think creatively about opportunities for other team members or people on the redeployment list.

Assessing candidates

Record how all candidates met the essential and desirable criteria, taking reasonable adjustments fully into account when deciding whether the criteria are met.

It is self-evident that panels should not assess applicants against additional criteria which are not in the job description or person specification, and should never use a disability in itself as reason for rejecting an applicant.  

Interview panels should always offer jobs on the basis of merit. However to avoid missing the potential of disabled applicants panels should keep an open mind about candidates, who may:

  • have gaps in their work history for disability-related reasons;
  • have an interrupted educational history;
  • have less work experience because of difficulty in gaining employment.

This does not necessarily mean they would not be able perform well in the role.

And think creatively about:
  • transferable skills;
  • evidence of how the applicant has managed/ could manage similar tasks if reasonable adjustments were made;
  • the potential of the candidate to perform the job satisfactorily given reasonable adjustments and training.

The crucial question that the panel should address is not whether a disabled person could do the job, but whether they could do it if a reasonable adjustment were put in place.

Appointing the 'best' candidate

The panel’s assessment of a disabled applicant therefore involves a decision as to whether they meet the essential criteria with reasonable adjustments put into place. The panel should proceed to determine the best candidate from this assessment, and if a disabled applicant meets more or the same number of the essential criteria taking account of reasonable adjustments as other candidates, then it is legally acceptable, to appoint that person to the post even if the are not the 'best' candidate in the sense of meeting more of the  'desirable' criteria than other candidates.

Considering ongoing adjustments in the work role

Do not let the fact that a disabled person may need reasonable adjustments deter you from selecting them.   The detailed discussion can take place later.

Most adjustments are no-cost or low-cost e.g. adjustments to start and finish times, adjustments to office layout, providing written instructions in addition to spoken ones. 

Access to Work will generally pay for all adjustments for new employees if contacted within 6 weeks.

Give feedback to unsuccessful applicants

Giving appropriate and useful feedback can be a difficult area, but one that may be very important for disabled people’s confidence, and for their perception of how they have been treated by Oxford Brookes.

Make it clear that decisions were based on an individual’s level of skill or experience.

Give specific feedback “you demonstrated considerable skills in X and met our requirements for Y, but had no experience of Z, which is a major part of this role.”

Avoid any “kind” remarks or commiserations along the lines of “Well, of course it was harder for you because you’re disabled.” 


If in the course of the interview somebody discloses a disability, and is then successfully appointed, the university will be deemed to know about the disability.  Please contact the Staff Disability Adviser to alert her to the new member of staff.


Further advice is available from the HR managers and the Staff Disability Adviser. We can also call on help from voluntary organisations, and the local Disability Employment Adviser.

Please contact Elaine Dagnall, HR Business Partnership Manager (Equality & Diversity) 01865 485929, email:


Guidelines last revised Sep 2009.
Please pass any suggestions for improvements to the Elaine Dagnall.