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