Recruitment and promotion

The DDA states that it is unlawful for an employer to discriminate against a disabled person during recruitment:

  • in the arrangements made for working out who should be given a job;
  • in the terms on which the disabled person is offered a job; or
  • by not offering a disabled person a job.

An employer does not need to predict applications from disabled people, but once they know an applicant is disabled and may be at a real disadvantage during the recruitment process (for example, because of the premises, application process or tests used), then they should make ‘reasonable adjustments’.

All employers, whatever their size or type, apart from the armed forces, are subject to the requirements of the DDA.

Recruitment agencies are considered ‘agents of the employer’ and are bound by codes of practice and regulation and have duties under the DDA as well as guidelines set by regulatory bodies.

The DDA does not stop an employer from getting the best person for the job. If a disabled person applies for a job and they are not the best person for the job, then the employer does not have to appoint them. However, if the way in which the employer has chosen the best person for the job discriminates against the disabled person, or if their way of getting someone does not make reasonable adjustments for a disabled person to allow them to show they are right for the job, then the employer may have treated the person less favourably, and may be liable to legal action.

The DDA does not stop employers from treating disabled people more favourably than those who are not disabled.

Job adverts

Advertising is one way in which employers attract applicants. All job adverts must comply with the DDA. Recruitment agencies and publishers (as an ‘employer’s agent’) would also be in breach of the DDA if an advert they produced or published was discriminatory.

Some adverts say that they ‘welcome applications from disabled people’ or from other specific sectors of society, which suggests that they have thought about their processes and are likely to have policies in place to support all members of staff.

Examples of possible discrimination in job adverts include:

  • ‘lively and energetic’ – for a job that is done sitting down;
  • ‘driving licence essential’ – for a job that requires limited travel, which would be feasible without driving;
  • ‘good team player’ – when the job doesn’t involve working in a team; or
  • ‘working on own’ – when there is always supervision and peer support.

If a company needs a person with a genuine skill specific to the job, this is not discriminatory. For example, it would be lawful for a company specialising in inner-city bicycle courier services to advertise for couriers who ‘must be able to ride a bicycle’.

Only the Equality and Human Rights Commission can take legal action against discriminatory adverts. However, you can request that an advert is taken into account by an employment tribunal when considering your case. If you identify an advert that you think discriminates, you can contact us.

The DDA does not stop employers asking for applications solely from disabled people or showing a bias for employing disabled people (except for local councils who come under Section 7 of the Local government and Housing Act 1989, which says that every job must be given on merit).

Job descriptions and person specifications

These documents must not include very small aspects of a job, where these could lead to discrimination against a disabled person who would have difficulty with one of these aspects, providing that is not really what the job is all about.

General exclusions on grounds of health (‘no one with diabetes’) or specific requirements for all jobs in a company (‘must be physically fit’) can lead to discrimination.


A computer company stated that it would not employ people who had had a mental health condition because it believed such people would not be reliable employees.

This is likely to be direct discrimination and the company may be liable to legal action.

If a company said that it required ‘20/20’ vision or a driving licence for a particular job, that may be justifiable depending on the work. If however, it claimed that all staff had to meet the requirement despite not all doing jobs in which it was necessary, that is likely to be unlawful discrimination.

Asking for specific qualifications can be discriminatory if the employer cannot show why they are needed for a particular job. A disabled person may have the abilities required to achieve a qualification, but have been unable to study because of their disability. In this case, an employer may be required to give up the need for some qualifications if the disabled person can demonstrate the same level of ability as having the qualification would require.

Application forms

Application forms should not ask questions that are not relevant to the job or situation, or ask for details that are not relevant about your disability.

An employer should provide you with any forms or information about a job in alternative formats, such as email, audiotape or CD, if requested to do so. They should also accept your application, with all information needed, in an accessible format. However, if you would not be ‘substantially disadvantaged’ by using their standard format, it would not be reasonable to ask for another format.

If an employer uses online recruitment and the website is not accessible to you, it is reasonable to request the application in another format, for example by email.

Health and disability questions or medical questionnaires

Employers may ask you to complete a medical questionnaire at some stage of the recruitment process, or they may include questions on an application form asking you to outline any medical problems or if you have seen a doctor in the last five years. You need to read the form carefully and perhaps get some advice on how best to answer.

The purpose of a medical questionnaire is to work out if there is a medical reason why you cannot do a job. If your disability or health condition causes an adverse effect on your ability to do the role, then the employer must consider any adjustments that would reduce this.

Medical advisors and occupational health departments are only ‘expert advisors’, sometimes known as ‘agents’. The final decision to employ rests with the employer.

It is important to answer questions about your health condition or disability positively. For example: ‘I have no adverse effects from a heart attack I had three years ago that would affect me in this job’ is a much stronger answer than: ‘Three years ago I had a heart attack and was in hospital for six weeks’. What is important is the effects of your disability or health condition and how these relate to the role you are going for.

Employers can ask disability-related questions to help make a recruitment decision or for equal opportunities monitoring purposes.

They can also ask about the effects of a disability in terms of the job for which are applying, such as: ‘Are there any changes in the workplace you would need to do this job?’

Good employers work out what reasonable adjustments you might need for interview and once appointed ask about the effects of your disability to decide what adjustments can be made at work.

Employers should not use the answers to disability questions to discriminate against a disabled person and should not ask general questions about the disability, such as how it came about or how long you have had it.


Some employers run ‘interview guarantee schemes’ where you will be short-listed for a job if you can prove you meet their minimum criteria.

Employers need to make reasonable adjustments when short-listing for interview. If they believe that you were at a ‘substantial disadvantage’ because of the application process, then a reasonable adjustment would be to short-list and interview you to clarify any unclear gaps or information.

Making reasonable adjustments at interviews

The employer can make various changes to where and how an interview takes place. These might include:

  • using accessible premises;
  • ensuring that your communication needs are met, such as making sure a signer is available, or the interviewer is well positioned for lip-reading;
  • ensuring that you get a choice about time of interview;
  • ensuring that water is available if you want it; or
  • allowing you to be accompanied by a support worker, for example to assist with powerpoint presentations or slides.

The employer should ask if there are any adjustments that can be made which would be helpful. If they don’t ask, you can contact them to request adjustments. If you do not ask beforehand, there is still a duty to make adjustments when you get there, but it is possible that these adjustments may be less effective. This situation would make you and the employer uncomfortable and would not be a good starting point for an interview.


Some employers use tests at interview – for example, psychometric tests, skills tests (such as literacy, typing, maths, administration skills) or asking candidates to make a presentation.

This process should not ‘substantially disadvantage’ you and adjustments should be made when needed. These could include:

  • giving you a reader or scribe during a written test;
  • allowing you longer to take a test;
  • accepting a lower pass rate if you are disadvantaged by the test procedure; or
  • allowing you to take a test using an adjustment you would have if you got the job – for example, a typing test may best be taken using an adapted keyboard if you would use this in the job.


Candidates for a graduate-training programme are asked to give a 15 minute presentation on a topic of their choice. Peter, a 23-year-old man who has cerebral palsy, contacted the company to explain that because of a speech impairment it would take him longer to present his material.

The company extended the time given for the presentation to 25 minutes, and Peter prepared his presentation carefully to make sure he could get through the material in time. He also gave a bullet point plan of his presentation to the interviewers at the end of his presentation. This impressed the interviewers, as it was one of the criteria on their marking sheet.

Assessment centres

When a number of assessments are made together, this is usually at an assessment centre. The idea is that your skills are tested in a number of ways by a number of people to give a broad overview of your abilities. This is often thought to be one of the fairest ways of assessing people.

It’s a good idea for you to discuss what you need to attend an assessment centre with a coordinator at the centre. Plans (practical and financial) may need to be made for personal assistants, assistance dogs, medication etc. You will be able to perform at your best if you know that the reasonable adjustments are all in place before you attend.

You may want to consider all or any of the following:

  • Do you have personal support needs outside of working hours? For example, using a dialysis machine in the evening with support from someone else to do this.
  • Do you have reduced sight and need help getting around new places?
  • Do you have personal care needs and require a personal assistant for dressing or personal care?
  • Do you have issues arising from activities at the centre (some activities may be ‘hands on’ or time-bound and cause difficulties for people with manual dexterity problems)?
  • Do you experience anxiety and if so, are there any adjustments when you first arrive, or later, that would help?

Contracts / terms and conditions

If you are on benefits, you need to check the length of contract as it may be difficult to go back onto ‘incapacity type’ benefits if the job finishes for reasons other than your health condition or disability.

The DDA says that an employer should not discriminate against you in the terms on which you are offered a job. An example of discrimination might be if the employer did not offer you the same terms about giving notice, redundancy, sickness or holiday pay as those offered to non-disabled staff. 


For many people, particularly those with disabilities, induction is one of the most important stages in the recruitment process. It may be the first time that you use the building, meet colleagues, and learn about the organisation and its procedures.

Your employer should consider whether the standard induction will work for you and if you need any adjustments. These might include:

  • a hearing loop for presentations;
  • alternative formats for manuals and presentation packs, such as Braille;
  • subtitles or signing on videos;
  • an alternative venue; or
  • one-to-one support, especially in the first few weeks.

Some adjustments might only be needed at the induction stage and not for the job itself. 

Last Updated: 29 Sep 2014