Introduction

Training directors and psychology faculty use a number of methods to recruit qualified and motivated students for their academic programs. Common recruitment methods for psychology programs include printed material, campus open-house events and web pages. Individuals with disabilities, however, may not have the same access to your program’s recruitment information and events, thereby leading to missed opportunities for admitting and enrolling qualified students with disabilities.

Undertaking the following activities can help ensure that individuals with disabilities are included in your recruiting efforts:

  • Disseminate information about your psychology program to disability-related advocacy/resource organizations (e.g., state vocational rehabilitation agencies, local chapters of learning or physical disability associations) and career centers at colleges and universities.
  • Modify your program’s website such that online information is more accessible to students with low vision, dyslexia or other disabilities that affect reading and visual processing. For more information and resources on making websites more accessible, you may refer to the Web Accessibility Initiative.
  • In promotional materials, include information about how individuals can request accommodations. Establish procedures to efficiently and effectively respond to accommodations requests.
  • At open houses and recruiting events, prepare materials in alternate formats (e.g., large print, electronic, etc.)
  • Hold open houses and recruiting events in a wheelchair-accessible location and consider mobility needs on campus tours and other such activities.
  • Make sure to include in your program your specific interest in recruiting qualified students with disabilities. Include information about your willingness to appropriately accommodate disability needs and your value of disability as a form of diversity.
  • Contact the office of disability services (particularly at target universities from which you wish to recruit) with your promotional materials. Certain universities have a reputation for drawing students with disabilities because of the physical structure and/or university culture (e.g.: Wright State University, University of California at Berkeley, University of Illinois, University of Houston, Edinboro University in Pennsylvania, and Gallaudet University).
  • Make the interview process accessible. Think ahead about potential accommodations applicants may require (e.g.: sign language interpreter, wheelchair accessible transportation, etc.). Be prepared to offer this information readily.
  • Recruit faculty and staff with disabilities. Students with disabilities may wish to form a mentorship with such professionals.

Application process

Discrimination against psychology applicants with disabilities can be avoided by examining your program’s application procedures:

  • Review application materials to ensure that questions are compliant with current disability-related laws.
  • Offer application materials in a variety of formats (e.g., online, large print).
  • Include information about how to request application-related accommodations (e.g., an interview) or alternative application formats on your program’s website and in applications packets.
  • Establish procedures for handling situations in which applicants voluntarily disclose disability-related information. For example, training directors should separate this information from application materials for the program, file it in a secure location and send it to the disabilities services office when appropriate.
  • Train faculty and staff on application review committees about disability-related laws, program policies and ways to avoid discrimination against qualified students with disabilities.
And, once they’re in...

Training directors and psychology faculty and staff can take a number of steps to welcome incoming students with disabilities:

  • Provide on-campus disability-related resources to all newly admitted students shortly after they have been accepted into the program. Encourage students to contact the disability services prior to the beginning of the semester so that their documentation can be processed and accommodations can be arranged in advance.
  • For new student orientation, include information on accessibility, including accessible housing, transportation, etc. In addition to information about the disabilities services office, consider providing information about on-campus groups and organizations that may be of interest to students with specific disabilities. This information should be disseminated to all students, and not only to those who voluntarily disclose or have a visible disability.
  • If your program has a student/peer mentor program for new students, train peer mentors about disability awareness, disability etiquette and communication.
  • Communicate with your university’s disabilities services office to be aware of special events or orientations designed for students with disabilities. Inform all new students about these opportunities. 

**Disclaimer: The goal of this web page is to provide general guidelines for compliance with major disability federal statutes such as the Americans with Disabilities Act as they relate to the interview process. It is intended to provide only general, non-specific legal information. This website and these articles are not legal advice and are not intended as legal advice
Interviewing applicants with disabilities

Psychology program directors and internship supervisors are responsible for conducting applicant interviews in a manner that is compliant with current disability-related legislation. The following list provides some examples of permissible and impermissible questions under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990.

Permissible questions

Directors of training or internship supervisors may ask applicants: 

  • How they will perform essential functions of the academic program or internship.
  • If attendance requirements can be met.
  • What accommodations they may need in the interview and admission/acceptance process. Interviewers may explain what is involved in the process (e.g., interview, tests, demonstrations), and ask if accommodations may be needed for any of those requirements.
  • To provide documentation of a disclosed disability, if the applicant is requesting accommodations. Examples, of documentation may include assessment reports, doctor notes or other validation of disability or functional limitations provided by an appropriate professional.
Impermissible questions

Directors of training or internship supervisors may not ask applicants: 

  • About physical or mental conditions, including diagnosis, treatment or prognosis.
  • Whether or not they will need accommodations for the internship position or academic program, if the applicant/interviewee does not voluntarily disclose their disability or request accommodations. This line of questioning is considered impermissible because it induces interviewees to reveal their disability status.
  • Any questions likely to elicit information about a disability.
  • About their ability to perform life activities (e.g., walking) that are not included in the essential functions of the program or internship. Responses to this line of questioning typically reveal the applicant’s disability status.
  • What medications the applicant is currently taking or has been prescribed in the past.
  • To take a medical examination to seek information about physical or mental conditions prior to an offer for the internship position or into the academic program.

In addition, directors of training and internship supervisors are not legally permitted to ask any disability-related questions to or attempt to obtain disability-related information from third parties, such as former employers, vocational rehabilitation or state agencies. As a general rule, questions that are illegal to ask an applicant directly are also illegal to pose to third parties about that applicant.

Case example
Case summary

Laura is a graduate student in a professional psychology program who is seeking an externship opportunity in an outpatient mental health center. Her career goal is to provide therapy to adolescents, and she has demonstrated excellent therapy skills in her labs and practicum experiences. She has cerebral palsy, which affects her muscle control and speech. She can ambulate well, using her power wheelchair, but her movements appear jerky and imprecise. Her cognitive abilities are above average, but due to limitations in her muscle control and her speech problems, her cognitive abilities are often underestimated.

For externship, Laura applied to a number of outpatient clinics. She did not mention her CP in her application or cover letter. After her top site offered an interview, however, she informed them about her CP and asked in an email if the interview room was wheelchair accessible. On interview day, Laura met with two supervisors. To communicate, she used a computer program that allowed her to type questions and responses, and provided a speech output. She also brought her personal attendant, who was more familiar with her speech and clarified at Laura’s request.

The supervisors were friendly and accommodating to Laura’s physical limitations (e.g., her wheelchair), but they had concerns about her becoming an extern at the site. They asked who the personal attendant was, if she planned to be in the room with Laura when she was providing therapy, and if Laura could “manage” without her. The supervisors also had concerns about the computer program, if the adolescent clients could deal with delays in communication, and if it affected the rapport between Laura and her clients. They decided that verbal communication was an essential function of the externship, and that Laura’s communication strategies were not suited to working with their adolescent clients. They thanked her for her interest in the site, but rejected her application.

Discussion

It was within the externship supervisors’ legal rights to list essential functions of the position and expect all externs (with and without disabilities) to have the skills to perform those functions. However, aspects of their approach and questioning violated disability-related laws. For example, under the Americans with Disabilities Act, it is impermissible to ask about functions (e.g., Laura’s reliance on her assistant) that are not considered essential for the position. Also, the supervisors demonstrated an ill-informed understanding of essential functions. Laura demonstrated the ability to communicate clearly using her computer program. Although communication took additional time, rapid communication was not an essential function. Moreover, Laura demonstrated that with accommodations she was able to adequately perform the communication function.

If having the personal attendant in the therapy room was against their policy, the supervisors could have given Laura the opportunity to describe or demonstrate how she would communicate with her clients without the attendant. The supervisors’ determination that Laura’s communication strategies or other characteristics were not suited to their adolescent clients and using that as a basis for rejection was not within their legal rights.

This case example was developed in collaboration with the ADA Information Center of the Mid-Atlantic Region.
References