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When designing campus visits for job candidates, colleges and universities must understand that many factors can create barriers that hinder candidates from fully demonstrating their talents. Those obstacles can especially impact applicants with disabilities by creating contexts that situationally impair them. The reality is that people are ability and functionally diverse, and all of us might acquire limitations at any time. As such, institutions must be more intentional in designing and planning an accessible, inclusive campus visit.
To improve the experience of all job candidates, colleges and universities must first re-examine their perceptions of ability and qualification. Individuals with disabilities can be truly an asset to institutions. Haben Girma extensively discusses the advances in innovation disabled people bring to a wide range of disciplines and industries. More important, hiring people with disabilities increases campus diversity and inclusiveness. How much would it mean to students, many of whom might be disabled or become so, to see faculty and administrators with disabilities engaging fully in their chosen profession?
By addressing accessibility for persons with disabilities -- including those with sensory, cognitive, mobility and mental health impairments -- institutions can begin to meaningfully design a campus environment that is usable and inclusive for all. In contrast, an exclusionary campus visit can deter the best candidates from showing their diversity and brilliance. Worse yet, it can damage a disabled person’s self-confidence, when they are, in fact, not the “problem.”
Campus visits are supposed to allow a candidate to show their skills, abilities and potential value to the campus. But too often campus visits are created as a sort of gauntlet, testing the endurance of even the able-bodied. In many if not most cases, every minute is scheduled; every possible person who might have a remote need to meet the candidate is slotted into a space. Candidates are run -- sometimes literally -- from room to room. Breaks are provided grudgingly, if at all. And snacks, if available, are typically sweet and sugary. It’s as though we believe that physical stamina is a sign of mental fortitude. And candidates with disabilities often leave a visit feeling their limitations more acutely.
A proactive approach to the campus visit demonstrates the institution’s commitment to equity and inclusion, expands market reach to talented candidates, and anticipates what accommodations candidates may need. Here’s some practical suggestions for what you can do in advance to scan the environment, identify possible barriers and design welcoming and successful candidate visits to your campus.
- Travel and time all routes you expect the candidate to take. You don’t have to use a wheelchair to see what design factors may inhibit participation, including uneven pavement, construction barriers, insufficient ramps and the like. Whenever possible, limit the number of places that a candidate will have to travel to and from in the course of their day.
- Map the location of accessible entrances and elevators. We’ve heard from people with disabilities that they are routinely -- even if they are carrying a cane -- led to stairs instead of elevators. All persons should be directed to elevators. Also map where restrooms and other private facilities, such as prayer or lactation rooms, are located. And all meeting rooms should be close to a restroom.
- Make note of any disruptive sensory interruptions that could occur. Those might include construction sounds, alarms, bells to signal the start and end of class, carillon bells that ring the hours, loud campus traditions and so on. Provide the candidate with a schedule and map of these campus-specific noises.
- Examine meeting rooms and other spaces to ensure adequate room for movement. Even if a candidate doesn’t use a wheelchair, cane, walker or crutches, they may still have a condition that makes navigating narrow spaces difficult. Evaluate how the candidate will reach the podium, as well as how they will use any needed technology.
- Ensure that the room has adequate lighting and sound quality. Make sure all rooms are well-lit. In addition, don’t choose rooms with dead space that the candidate will have to avoid. Note the availability of microphones and assistive listening devices for the candidate or those in the audience. Make microphones available at all presentations.
- If candidates will be hosted in faculty homes, include those venues in your preliminary scan. Does the household have pets or smell of mold? Are the restrooms accessible? Can the host provide adequate seating and so forth? Don’t expect candidates to stand for a whole reception while balancing a plate and drink.
- Allow candidates to provide teaching and research presentations via video. Many applicants may have already recorded their teaching to improve their practice, and many websites offer advice on how to do it successfully. Converting high-stakes presentations into virtual events allows the face-to-face time of a campus visit to be devoted to the candidate’s ideas.
- Convert nonessential conversations to video meetings. Schedule interviews with those not participating in the hiring decisions, such a related program head, and informational meetings on topics like benefits and retirement plans as pre-visit videoconference calls.
- Reimagine -- or cancel -- the campus and city tour. If your campus offers an accessible virtual tour, send that link with the visit invitation.
- If faculty will be providing transportation to some events, ensure their vehicles are accessible and clean. In most cases, the best option may be to provide an institutional vehicle. Ask the candidate if one sort of vehicle is more accessible than another. Having to crawl up into a van isn’t pleasant in the best of circumstances -- but it can also be painful for those with movement or other disabilities. Likewise, a mini coupe might be uncomfortable for others.
- Start and end the day at reasonable times. Some candidates may, because of medication, move slowly in the morning; others may have difficulty sleeping in a hotel room. If you want the candidate to give you their best performance, give them the rest to do it. Plan on allowing the candidate 10 to 12 hours in their hotel room: at least eight hours for sleep and two for dressing and reviewing notes.
- Build in breaks. Provide least one substantive break in both the morning and the afternoon. During that break, give the candidate privacy. Don’t surrounded them with people at all times. Allow them to discreetly take their medication or check their blood sugar. Also, don’t combine breaks with other activities: if a candidate is having to ensure their technology is working, it isn’t a break. Provide tech support in advance of and during any meeting.
- Know and accommodate the candidate’s dietary requirements and preferences. Give them information about various possible restaurants before the visit. Since restaurant websites often aren't accessible, you may need to glean and share information from menus. Yes, this approach sacrifices some of the whimsy and fun of letting faculty members show off their favorite dive, but it also ensures all candidates will be able to eat.
- Make sure meeting rooms are near an accessible restroom and one appropriate to their gender identity. This allows the candidate to use spare minutes to take a break, wash their face, breathe. If you must make the candidate move from office to office, provide reasonable time for transitions.
- Follow up. Ask for feedback on the quality of the campus visit preparations and the candidate’s experience. Make clear that any commentary will be kept in confidence from the faculty or relevant administrators until after the search process is concluded and an offer has been extended.
A poorly conceived campus visit can place a job candidate in the uncomfortable position of feeling that being themselves will in and of itself disqualify them. In contrast, a well-designed, inclusive visit allows the campus to hone its commitment to inclusion. Campus personnel who participate in the visit will also have an opportunity to recognize their unconscious biases and, we hope, remediate them.
Disabilities remind us gently that life is infinitely varied and compel us to improve usability for all. Designing accessible, inclusive campus visits allows your institution to convey clearly that it values human difference. As our colleague John L. Graham says, how an institution treats persons with disabilities is a measure of its values writ large. This comes down to analyzing ableism, challenging our assumptions and treating all people with empathy and generosity. The candidate will leave your campus and tell stories about their experience there: make those stories be the ones you wish to be judged by.