Assessing candidates with disabilities

When used properly, psychometric assessments provide employers with an objective, valid and fair way to measure the suitability of candidates for graduate positions. However, the use of such assessments can sometimes present real barriers to those with disabilities.Very often, the barriers presented do not arise from the individual’s disability or the psychometric tests themselves. The real disabling factor is likely to be the way in which the assessment techniques are applied. Frequently, the inappropriate use of assessment techniques for candidates with disabilities stems from a lack of understanding on the part of the employer rather than any deliberate negligence.

4th April 2016

Cubiks Team

By Dr Robert Feltham, Debbie Kirby and Wendy Lord

If employers are to compete effectively in the war for talent, then it is essential that their selection processes allow them to reach out to all candidates, including those with disabilities. Therefore, organisations have to use psychometric assessments in a way that is fair to people with disabilities, and take steps to ensure that staff who are involved in assessment administration and recruitment process design are fully aware of best practice requirements.


Recognising the need for fair assessment

There are a number of compelling reasons why employers should invest time and resource in accommodating the needs of candidates with disabilities. Firstly, there is a legal requirement.

Under the provisions of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, 2005, any assessment technique used during a selection process must, as far as is reasonably possible, be free of any requirement that places a disabled person at a substantial disadvantage, unless that requirement can be justified.

In order to justify a requirement (for example, the ability to perform calculations accurately), the employer must go further than simply proving that the requirement is essential for the job. The employer must also have considered whether the role requirements could be met by a disabled person if a ‘reasonable adjustment’ was made either to the testing process or to the job itself.

There are also good ethical and commercial reasons why organisations should provide a fair assessment process for candidates with disabilities.

Assessors need the testing experience to be positive because when candidates feel positive about what they are being asked to do, they are more likely to give their best effort and respond openly. Such an attitude will maximise the accuracy of the results.

Furthermore, when people feel they are being treated fairly they will leave with a good impression of psychometric assessment generally and, more specifically, a good impression of the employer.


Understanding The Impact of Different Types of Assessment 

Most assessment techniques have some aspects which are likely to present difficulties to candidates with particular types of disability. Some examples are set out below.

  • Abstract and Spatial Tests
    Abstract and spatial tests, which assess non-verbal reasoning, are likely to place people with visual disabilities at a disadvantage, especially where these are profound.


  • Verbal and Numerical Reasoning Tests
    Verbal and numerical reasoning tests may be more challenging for people who are deaf or severely hearing impaired, particularly where deafness preceded the acquisition of language and particularly for those who communicate using sign language rather than the spoken word.


  • Group Exercises
    Group exercises require the observation of behaviour in a simulated situation. In theory, they offer people with disabilities a fair opportunity to demonstrate the possession of attributes relevant to the job, unless the area of disability interferes with the process of interaction (e.g. blindness or deafness).


Solutions For Employers

Whilst the list of factors that need to be accommodated may appear overwhelming, there are a number of practical steps that employers can take to make the assessment process fairer for disabled candidates. A detailed (though by no means exhaustive) list of the steps that employers can take to accommodate particular kinds of disability has been set out below.

Visual impairments

  • Consult the test publisher to find out whether alternative versions of test materials have been produced for people with visual impairments. These can range from different typefaces, careful use of colour, larger print, audio versions or even Braille versions of the test.
  • Recognise the importance of orientating the person to the venue if the location is unfamiliar. Find out whether the individual has a guide dog, as arrangements may need to be made for it. While this appears obvious, there are case law examples where employers have overlooked this.
  • Voice recognition software may mean that online tests and exercises are accessible for candidates with some aspects of visual impairment.  It is important to find out what equipment or software the person uses to assist them and also provide example questions for the candidate to gain some familiarity with the type of task. Candidates’ ability to interact with the site will also be impacted by the web design protocols adopted.


Hearing Impairments

  • If the candidate lip reads, face them and enunciate each word clearly. Ask candidates in a group exercise to speak one at a time.
  • Ensure comprehensive written instructions are provided and allow extra time for these to be understood. In the absence of an interpreter or if the candidate is not fluent in sign language, deal with queries via written notes.


Physical Disability and Chronic Pain

  • Circulation problems and/or difficulty maintaining a writing posture for the period of the test may indicate a need for more frequent rest breaks.
  • Consider the appropriateness of furniture; desk/chair heights and slopes plus adequate space for any special equipment.

Specific Learning Difficulties (eg. Dyslexia)

  • Talk with the individual to find out how their disability affects them.
  • A computerised version of the test, particularly with a screen reader may be easier for them to manage.
  • Consider providing extra time, test the candidate separately from other test-takers and consult the test publishers who can give more detail.


Online Administration

Where online tests are completed under unsupervised conditions, the quality of the test administration process becomes more reliant on the test instructions and support available to the candidates.

Good test publishers will typically provide candidates with clear test-taking instructions, example familiarisation questions, and contact details for a support desk.

With timed tests, some online systems enable administrators to make reasonable adjustments by increasing the time allotted. To identify the appropriate amount of time required, assessors should speak to the candidate to explore the nature of their disability and how it affects them.  

Increasingly, test publishers are adopting web accessibility standards such as those set by the Web Accessibility Initiative. In a testing context, factors that web designers are increasingly seeking to address include allowing users to control fonts and spacing between text, not relying on colour alone to convey information, ensuring functionality is retained when using screen readers and providing clear navigation mechanisms.



In order to assess people with disabilities in a way that is fair, employers have to accept that there are issues which exist in psychometric assessment which could require adjustment for disabled people, and be willing to acknowledge and accommodate the concerns of candidates with disabilities. Employers must see people with disabilities not as a single homogeneous group but as individuals who, like all candidates, have their own special concerns and needs in relation to being tested.  By meeting these challenges, graduate recruiters will increase their skills as assessors, improve their organisation’s ability to identify the most talented people, and help to provide equal opportunities for all candidates.


Top Tips

  • Conduct a thorough job analysis to demonstrate that each assessment technique being used is measuring some aspect of effective job performance.
  • Consider whether any measure used is likely to disadvantage candidates with disabilities.
  • Investigate whether any aspect of the test administration process should be adjusted for candidates with disabilities.
  • Provide as much pre-test familiarisation and practice material as possible.


Dr Robert Feltham and Debbie Kirby are both consultants at international assessment consultancy Cubiks. Wendy Lord is a consultant with Hogrefe Ltd.

Let's start a conversation! Call us on +44 1483 544 200 or fill in the form below.

Read our Privacy Policy