Occupational testing of the disabled


Assessment specialists Psychometric Services outline adjustments that might reasonably be made when carrying out occupational testing of disabled people

The Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) makes it unlawful to have a selection or other assessment procedure that might present such an obstacle.

Assessment specialists Psychometric Services Ltd, outline modifications and adjustments that might reasonably be made to tests and test conditions when carrying out occupational testing of disabled people.

The advice is divided into six areas, grouped by nature of disability; this is for the sake of convenience and is not to suggest that the candidates should be grouped in such a fashion.

Candidates with visual disabilities

The use of the words “blind” and “partially-sighted” covers a wide range of visual impairment, and it should not be assumed that a candidate with a visual impairment has no sight at all. This is why it is essential to contact candidates before the testing sessions, ascertaining how they prefer to communicate and what adjustments might be made.  

Many “blind” candidates are likely to have some sight, or see certain things but not others. Lighting tends to be a vital issue, so rooms with insufficient, patchy or uneven lighting should be avoided – this is true of testing conditions in general.

Large-print versions of tests might be sufficient in some cases, but consideration needs to be given to the answer sheet as well. Many “partially-sighted” candidates may use magnifiers or may prefer to use materials scanned into a computer (please check with the publisher before scanning tests) and reading from a magnified or otherwise adjusted computer screen.

Braille versions of tests are available from some publishers, but it should be remembered that many candidates with a visual impairment will have little or no proficiency in Braille. Other formats for tests might include audio versions, such as audio tape, computer-simulated speech or amanuensis (when someone reads out the test to the candidate and writes down the answers for them).

It should be noted that all of these methods are likely to require more time for the test, both for the candidate and the administrator. It should also be noted that questionnaires administered by amanuensis may result in slightly different responses than those administered using computer-simulated speech. This is due to the tendency of candidates in general to moderate self-perceived extreme choices and to present themselves more favourably when dealing with an administrator face-to-face.

The use of large print or other mechanically magnified versions also is likely to have an impact on the time given to take the test and the times for completion and administration need to be adjusted accordingly.  

Candidates with hearing disabilities

For most written tests, little or no adjustment to the test itself is required for candidates with a hearing impairment. The major issue tends to surround the test administration. Many, but not all, candidates with hearing disabilities can lip-read, so it should not be assumed that an interpreter is not required. Check with the candidate as to whether they would like to have an interpreter present and whether they need the test instructions “signed” by an interpreter. Good written instructions may suffice, but if candidates feel that they are being disadvantaged (and probably are being disadvantaged), any decisions based on the results of such a test are likely to be seen as discriminatory and therefore unlawful.

If testing a candidate with a hearing disability in a group of candidates, ensure that this candidate is in a position with an unobscured view of the administrator (possibly at the front) and if an interpreter is present make sure that they are adjacent to the candidate. If possible, administration should be conducted on a one-to-one basis. During the administration, look directly at the candidate and not (if present) at the interpreter.  

The usual considerations need to be made with regard to working through the examples and questions from the candidate. Deaf candidates may be able to lip-read very well, but not speak relatively fluently and therefore the administrator may need to provide paper to a deaf candidate for them to write down questions. The administrator should also be prepared to write questions down or provide written explanations as required.

Some forms of assessment are unsuitable for candidates with a hearing disability. Group exercises (while not impossible) are likely to be very problematic to a candidate with a hearing disability (identifying who is speaking, what is being said, contributing themselves).

Role plays and presentation exercises are also problematic due to the fact that many candidates with a hearing disability may have difficulties with oral communication. Another issue is that many candidates with a hearing impairment, especially people who are deaf from birth, may often have British Sign Language (BSL) as their first language and while they may lip-read English proficiently, English is in fact their second language.

Candidates with a motor impairment

The major issue for testing candidates with a motor impairment is ensuring that they can access the buildings, rooms and materials involved. The candidate should be asked what equipment and access they will need.  Rooms may need to be able to accommodate wheelchairs or additional supporting people; the heights or angles of tables, desks and chairs might need adjusting.

The candidates may use specialised equipment or computer programs themselves, so power points, computers and web access may be required.  For example, while many candidates may have no problem reading a written test, they may be unable to turn the pages of a booklet. In most cases, such candidates are likely to have their own devices for turning a page.  

An easy and usual adjustment tends to be to the answer sheet. Many candidates with a motor impairment would find it impossible to fill in a small circle as required on most answer sheets, so other ways of indicating the answer may be required e.g. using a computer or specialised equipment, or providing the answers orally and getting someone else (possibly the administrator) to complete the answer sheet for them. The time taken to answer is likely to be affected by the method of response, so adjustments to the time allowed should be made. The administrator should also be aware of issues of fatigue; very long tests and test sessions should be avoided.

Candidates with dyslexia

Candidates with dyslexia can be characterised as having difficulty with words and language, and often difficulty with organising and planning. They may have differences in the brain area that deals with language, differences which affect the skills needed for learning to read, write and spell. About 4 per cent of the UK population are severely dyslexic with a further 6 per cent having moderate or mild difficulties and, as such, people with dyslexia represent the biggest group of disabled candidates.  

 People with dyslexia may have advantages over others in terms of their ability to think innovatively and creatively. These tend to play little part in most ability tests, where the answers are given in a pre-determined, multiple-choice format and have specific and exact administration instructions and timings.  

Most written tests represent a major challenge for many candidates with dyslexia due to the amount of reading required and the need to work in a speedy and highly accurate fashion.

Candidates with dyslexia tend to have some difficulty with the test instructions. They find it easier to follow instructions if they are being read out by an administrator rather than just being presented in written format. They may need more support with the instructions, especially with the examples, but difficulty with the examples should not be seen as an indicator of poor performance on the test itself. Therefore it is important to ensure that opportunity to complete examples is given and that tests which require an administrator to read out the instructions fully are used.

The usual reasonable adjustment made for candidates with dyslexia regards the time allowed for the assessment. Ask candidates what extra time they received for GCSEs, Highers or A-Levels and apply this proportionally to the test they need to take. Note how far the candidate has progressed through the test after the normal full time for the test.  

Check the accuracy of their responses during that time (what percentage of the questions attempted did they get right) and do the same at the end of the extra time given. This accuracy measure may prove to be a better measure of their ability, as it is likely to be less affected by speed.

If more than one test is being administered to a candidate with dyslexia, try giving the least time-sensitive test first. When testing graduates and managers this is likely to be a verbal reasoning test. Tell the candidate that they will receive extra time, but ask them to stop after the normal full time given for the test. Check how far they get through the test in the time given and work out how long it takes them to complete a single item. Multiple this by the number of items in the test and this will give the total time that should be allowed.  If they have completed half of the test items, they should be allowed 100 per cent extra time on the test; if they have completed two-thirds, they should be allowed 50 per cent extra time. This is often the best strategy for establishing how much extra time to give. With subsequent tests, the extra time allowed should be the same as for the verbal test.  

Candidates with a speech impairment

For most tests, little or no adjustment is required for candidates with a speech impairment. One consideration is the fact that candidates with a speech impairment are less likely to ask questions during the administration session. Test administrators might specifically ask such candidates on a one-to-one basis if they have any questions rather than expecting them to respond in a group situation.

Candidates with a learning disability

Many employees would not test candidates with a learning disability (or disabilities). The most important consideration in testing such candidates is to ensure that they understand what they are being asked to do. Use existing test administration instructions, but be prepared to explain things as many times as necessary and ensure that candidates are fully aware of the need to work quickly and accurately. It is more appropriate to test such candidates on an individual basis rather than as part of a group. Nevertheless, PSL would recommend that candidates with a learning disability are not tested in general due to the fact that the test may be assessing their disability (which is likely to be unlawful).  

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