Guidelines for the Use of Psychometric Assessments with People with Disabilities (UK Edition)
Candidates with visual disabilities
Candidates with visual dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dyspraxia (DCD)
Candidates with neurodiverse conditions
Candidates with hearing disabilities
Candidates with a motor impairment
Candidates with a speech impairment
Candidates with a learning disability
These Accessibility Guidelines are issued by The Myers-Briggs Company Limited and were updated in June 2023.
The Myers-Briggs Company Limited
15-17 Elsfield Way
Tel: + 44 1865 404500
People with disabilities have a big contribution to make to British industry and commerce, but they are under-represented in the workplace. Psychometric tests and questionnaires are one of the most objective and fair methods of selection (and personal development), but some see them as a barrier to the employment of people with disabilities.
This should not be the case. These guidelines outline some of the issues involved in using psychometric assessments with people with disabilities, and present practical suggestions for some of the issues that may arise. The aim is to use tests in an inclusive way to help employers recruit the best person for the job, irrespective of whether they have a disability.
These guidelines cover three main areas:
- The legal background. In this UK edition, this concerns the Equality Act 2010 (and the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 in Northern Ireland1); what it is, who it applies to, how it relates to the use of tests, and some key terminology.
- Testing people with disabilities. General points in using tests with people with disabilities and practical issues in testing people with specific disabilities.
- Interpreting test results. Issues to consider when scoring, interpreting, and making decisions based on the assessment results of people with disabilities.
The guidelines are followed by an Appendix listing useful UK contact details.
Our summary of the legal background is intended to provide a summary and some context. It is not intended to provide legal advice for specific cases and if you have specific issues, you should take legal advice as required.
When we refer to an ‘employer’ we are also referring to a ‘potential employer’.
A note on language: Disabled people or people with disabilities?
There has historically been a debate as to whether it is better to use ‘person first’ language (such as ‘people with disabilities’) or ‘identity first’ language (such as ‘disabled person’). Person first language began to be used as a way of recognizing that we are talking about multi-faceted people, with any disability being just one aspect of who they are. This was meant to contrast with the use of terms like disabled people, where there may be a danger of seeing the disability first and ignoring the whole person. More recently, some individuals have reclaimed ‘disabled person’ as being central to their identity, though many still prefer ‘person with a disability’.
In practice, when working with individuals, it is better to be guided by the wording they prefer. In this guide, however, we need to talk in generalities, and have chosen to use the term people with disabilities. This is because, when using psychometric tests or questionnaires in a work context, we are looking at how to use the assessment process to look at aspects of the whole person, rather than looking first at the disability. In choosing to use this terminology, we do not in any way intend to deny the centrality of disability or specific conditions to any person’s self-image.
 The Equality Act 2010 is applicable in England, Wales, and Scotland, whereas the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 is applicable in Northern Ireland. Generally, the Equality Act 2010 overlaps with, and enhances, the protections offered in the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. Guidelines specific to Northern Ireland are available here: https://www.equalityni.org/ECNI/media/ECNI/Publications/Individuals/DisabilityDiscrimShortGuide2011.pdf
2. UK Legal background: The Equality Act 2010
What is the Equality Act 2010, and who does it apply to?
In the UK, the use of The Myers-Briggs Company’s psychometric assessments and other published instruments should be informed by the requirements of the Equality Act 2010 (referred to as the “Act” hereafter). Copies of the Act can be found at: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2010/15/contents; the rights of people with disabilities are discussed at: www.gov.uk/browse/disabilities/rights. Several guidance leaflets can be downloaded from: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/equality-act-guidance.
The ethical standards of psychometric publishing require that psychometric assessments should not discriminate unfairly against people with disabilities. The Equality Act 2010 covers the current British legal requirements to ensure that people with disabilities are not discriminated against. The Act applies to all service providers in Great Britain, and to situations involving an individual who has a physical or mental impairment. The Act defines individuals as having a disability if they have “a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long term negative effect on your ability to do normal daily activities”. Long term means that it has lasted at least 12 months or is likely to last more than 12 months. Substantial means more than minor or trivial; as an example, government guidelines suggest taking much longer than it usually would to complete a daily task like getting dressed.
These impairments include, but are not limited to, those related to:
- Manual dexterity
- Physical co-ordination
- Ability to lift, carry or move everyday objects
- Speech, hearing or eyesight
- Ability to concentrate, learn or understand
- Perception of the risk of physical danger
- Mental illness or mental health issues (insofar as they have a substantial, adverse, and long-term effect on the individual’s ability to carry out normal day to day activities). Many different mental health conditions can lead to a disability, including but not limited to:
- Bipolar disorder
- Obsessive compulsive disorder
Also protected under the Act are people with past, recurring, or progressive disorders, severe disfigurements, and controlled/corrected impairments. Protection is also extended to people who have HIV, cancer, and multiple sclerosis (from the moment they are diagnosed).
The Act does not explicitly create a category of ‘neurodiversity’ as an impairment. However, where a neurodiverse condition creates a long-term and substantial negative effect on a person’s ability to carry out their normal day to day activities, they will be protected by the Act. Indeed, government guidance states that “A disability can arise from a wide range of impairments which can be developmental” and lists impairments such as autistic spectrum disorders (ASD), dyslexia and dyspraxia (developmental co-ordination disorder).
Certain conditions are not seen as impairments, including addiction to, or dependency on, alcohol, nicotine, or any other substance (other than in consequence of the substance being medically prescribed), seasonal allergic rhinitis (e.g., hay fever) except where it aggravates the effect of another condition, and any tendencies to steal, set fires, physically or sexually abuse another person, exhibitionism, or voyeurism.
Any treatment or correction, including medication, should not be taken into account in assessing disability. For example, a person with a hearing impairment is still said to be a person with a disability even if they have the use of a hearing aid which enables them to hear adequately. The only exceptions to this rule are glasses and contact lenses. A short-sighted or long-sighted person is not deemed to have a disability even if they need corrective lenses in order to see adequately.
The Equality Act 2010 extends all previous legislation by adding that an individual with a disability no longer has to demonstrate that their impairment influences a particular ‘capacity’, such as hearing, eyesight, speech, or their mobility to qualify for protection against discrimination. .
How the Act works in practice
The Act makes it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against a person with a disability when recruiting or employing staff. The best applicant can and should be appointed to a job irrespective of whether or not they have a disability. This means that employers should take steps to ensure that they do treat people fairly. To understand how this works, it is important that the employer understands the concepts of reasonable adjustment, justification, and employer knowledge.
The Act requires employers to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate any particular needs a person with a disability might have. This means that employers should take steps to ensure that people are not put at a disadvantage because of their disability, and employers should avoid situations where a provision, criterion, or practice applied by or on behalf of the employer, or any physical features of an employer’s premises, substantially disadvantage a person with a disability. An employer should conduct an assessment to determine what steps would be reasonable.
The term ‘reasonable adjustment’ is, of course, open to interpretation, but in terms of test-taking, it might for example include:
- Providing easy access to the assessment room for wheelchair users (e.g., using a ground floor room with a wide doorway, providing a ramp, or moving furniture).
- Providing large print or (if appropriate) audio versions for people with visual impairments, or facilitating the use of their own magnifying equipment.
- Allowing the use of spell-checkers where this is not central to the skill to be tested.
- Providing additional breaks in an assessment day to overcome fatigue arising from a specific disability.
More details on possible adjustments to assessments and the assessment environment will be given later in these guidelines.
Reasonable adjustments in the workplace might include:
- Adjusting premises (e.g., ramps, positioning of light switches, shelves etc., changes to lighting, or something as simple as changing the layout of furniture).
- Acquiring or modifying equipment.
- Providing a reader or interpreter.
What counts as ‘reasonable’ is also subject to a range of factors, such as:
- Effectiveness of the adjustment.
- Practicability (e.g., can the adjustment be made within a reasonable timescale).
- Financial and other costs (e.g., disruption).
- Financial and other resources of the employer.
- Availability to the employer of financial or other assistance to make an adjustment.
- The type and size of the employer..
Prospective employers must look proactively at job requirements and the effect on people with disabilities. An employer also needs to understand the particular disability’s effect on a person’s normal day to day activities and then consider what adjustment could be made. Then the employer should consider if the adjustments are reasonable.
The costs of any reasonable adjustment would normally be met by the employer. However, advice and in some cases partial funding may be available from the Access to Work scheme (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/access-to-work-guide-for-employers)
Generally, if a person with a disability is treated less favourably than a person without that disability, this is an example of direct discrimination and would be unlawful. If they are treated unfavorably for reasons that have arisen as a result of the disability (but not directly because of the disability itself), and there is no objective justification for this, this would be an example of discrimination arising from disability and would be unlawful. However, if an employer can justify discrimination arising from disability because it relates to something that is essential to the job, then this is allowed for under the provisions of the Act.
For example, suppose a candidate with a severe visual impairment applied for the role of bus driver. Their disability may mean that they could not carry out the central function of the job, in which case their application could lawfully be rejected on this basis, even though they would have been treated less favorably than a candidate without a visual impairment.
It is, however, important to remember that any justification needs to be both relevant and substantial. If a candidate was applying for a job where driving was not necessary, or where a reasonable accommodation could be made to avoid the need for driving (e.g., by reassigning duties, or utilizing public transport), then no such justification could be made.
The concept of justification also extends to the use of psychometric assessments. The employer should be able to demonstrate that:
- The skill or attribute being assessed is essential to the job. This would usually be demonstrated by job analysis.
- The person with the disability could not perform the job well by way of a reasonable adjustment which in turn rendered this skill or attribute irrelevant.
- The assessment is a valid measure of the relevant skill or attribute—as it applies to the content and nature of the job after any reasonable adjustment to the job.
In general, an assessment used in selection should not require an applicant to do things that they would not need to do in the job, otherwise a disability might diminish someone’s test performance even though they could do the job perfectly well.
In the past, some employers asked questions about health or disability in the initial stages of recruitment. In some cases, this resulted in applicants with disabilities being rejected before any interview or assessment of their ability to do the job. It is now in general unlawful for an employer to ask any job applicant about their health or disability unless and until the applicant has been offered a job. However, employers can and should take reasonable steps to find out about people’s disabilities in so far as they relate to the selection process, and government guidance reflects this. Employers should establish whether an applicant can take part in any assessment of their suitability for the job, and whether any reasonable adjustments can be made to enable a person with disabilities to participate in this assessment. For example, a job application form might include wording such as:
“Our selection process includes several online computer-based tests and assessments. Please outline below any specific needs you will have if you are invited to complete these.”
“Our selection day includes timed paper and pencil tests that will involve the manipulation and assimilation of information from several documents and the recording of your answers on an answer sheet. Please outline below any specific needs you will have if you are invited to attend.”
An employer cannot be expected to make adjustments for a person with disabilities if they are genuinely unaware of the person’s disability and could not reasonably be expected to know. Applicants will only be protected under the Act if they have told the employer in advance about their disability and needs
An important point, however, is that if any ‘agent’ of the employer is aware of the disability then the Act does apply. Given that disability can be a sensitive area, an individual may choose to inform a company’s occupational health officer of their disability in confidence, who may then need (after consultation with the individual) to recommend any necessary adjustments without disclosing the nature of someone’s disability. Other agents of an employer may include recruitment agencies.
Similarly, an individual may choose to confide in the HR professionals involved in the recruitment but ask for the potential line manager not to be informed. It may of course be possible to make an adjustment to the way in which assessments are administered or interpreted without informing the line manager of any specific disability, but the individual may request that no adjustment is made to the selection process. In this instance, the HR professional may need to advise them of any possible consequences of this decision.
Whilst it’s generally unlawful to ask an applicant questions about health or disability unless a job offer has been made, it is lawful to ask questions relating to reasonable adjustments that would be needed for an assessment within a selection process. It is important to bear in mind, however, that in practice, any information on disability or health obtained by an employer for purposes of making adjustments to recruitment or assessment should, as far as possible, be held separately, and it should never form part of the decision-making process about a job offer.
In case of possible discrimination claims later, it is strongly recommended that employers retain all correspondence about individual cases and make careful notes (or, with the agreement of those concerned, recordings) of any oral discussions.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has published a Code of Practice, which is an important resource for employers, employees, and job candidates. It incorporates best practice as indicated by the Equality Act 2010. It can be accessed at: www.equalityhumanrights.com/sites/default/files/documents/EqualityAct/employercode.pdf.
The Disability Confident Scheme
Disability Confident was launched in 2013 to replace the earlier ‘Two ticks’ scheme. Disability Confident encourages employers to think differently about disability and take action to improve how they recruit, retain, and develop people with disabilities. It was developed by employers and representatives of people with disabilities to make it rigorous but easily accessible, particularly for smaller businesses. Through signing up to the scheme, employers are committing to:
- Challenging attitudes towards disability.
- Increasing their understanding of disability.
- Removing barriers to employment of people with disabilities, including those with long-term health conditions.
- Ensuring people with disabilities have developmental opportunities to fulfil their potential.
- Guaranteeing an interview if an applicant meets the minimum or essential criteria for the job.
- Offering opportunities, e.g., work experience, work trials, apprenticeships etc., to people with disabilities.
- Ensuring employees have appropriate disability equality awareness.
- Launching coaching/mentoring schemes.
The first commitment can mean that where a person with a disability applies for a job, and tests are being used at an early stage of selection, the employer may decide that the individual may be taken forward to interview without completing any pre-interview psychometric assessments that would normally be used. In such a case, however, the employer should have a very carefully pre-defined definition of exactly what the ‘minimum criteria’ are.
More information is available from: www.gov.uk/government/collections/disability-confident-campaign#become-a-disability-confident-employer.
3. Administering assessments to people with disabilities
- Any discussion of this nature may seem to imply that ‘people with disabilities’ are a homogenous group. This is emphatically not the case; everyone is different. “Similar” disabilities may affect different people in very different ways, and many individuals may have multiple disabilities. Every individual is different, and each assessment session should be approached accordingly. This should also be borne in mind when reading the sections later in these guidelines on specific disabilities—not everyone with a visual disability is the same, for example.
- As outlined in the previous section, employers should, as permitted by local legalisation, take reasonable steps in advance of any selection or testing process to find out about particular needs that candidates may have, without requiring them to disclose the fact that they may have a disability or any specific disability. This process should preferably involve the trained and qualified individual who will be administering and/or choosing the assessments so that candidates can be given an informed picture of what they will be required to do.
- Employers should think carefully about exactly which skills or attributes they are testing and then relate these back to the assessment they are using. In any assessment, but especially with ability or aptitude tests, part of the ability required to complete the task is about the skill or attribute the instrument is trying to measure, and part is about the technology or the mechanics of physically completing the test. For example, if the ability to read and understand written information is important but motor skills are not, an adjustment which could be made for testing individuals with poor motor skills might be to have someone sitting beside them who could fill in circles on an answer sheet for them. Careful thought about exactly what it is that needs to be assessed—what the real skills needed for the job actually are—will be essential in deciding what adjustments to make to the testing process.
- Having thought through these issues and made an informed choice as to which tests to use, the employer should then decide on what adjustments should be made to the testing process. The advice and help of the candidates themselves should be sought—they have a wealth of experience of working with their particular disability. Suitably forewarned, they may also be able to bring additional equipment with them (such as magnifying devices) or be advised on where to obtain additional equipment. Those completing online assessments at home will have time to set up any necessary equipment or software. Employers may wish to consult The Myers-Briggs Company (in relation to our assessments), and advice and help can be sought from other relevant organizations—see the Appendix for contact details. This may be particularly important with candidates who have not taken psychometric tests before and who therefore have less of an idea what to expect.
- It may be that having considered what changes could be made, it is decided that the assessment cannot be suitably adjusted, or that the necessary adjustments change the assessment in such a way as to make it unsuitable for the assessment. In this case, and where local legislation allows, an employer may decide to put in place a ‘guaranteed interview scheme’. Here, an applicant with a disability who meets the minimum or essential criteria for the post is exempted from psychometric tests or other parts of the selection process, and is guaranteed an interview, on the basis that any adjustments to the testing process are not likely to be satisfactory. In the UK, guaranteed interview schemes set up in this way are a reasonable adjustment and will be lawful; ‘Disability Confident’ is an example of such a scheme. Similarly, where online testing is being used as part of an initial sifting process, to be augmented by later face to face assessment, it may be that candidates with disabilities can be exempted from the online stage. If an employer is in any doubt about what a reasonable adjustment would be, providing a guaranteed interview scheme for candidates with disabilities is a good defensive strategy in relation to any potential discrimination claim.
- It is always important to prepare candidates for an assessment session, but it is particularly important to prepare a candidate who has a disability. It is difficult for candidates to give advice on what sort of accommodation would suit them best if they don’t know what they are going to be given. If practice tests or preview leaflets are available, then the employer should distribute these to candidates well before the session and ask their opinion.
- Candidates with disabilities may have had a more stressful journey than other candidates and may need additional assistance in reaching the testing location. Time should be allowed to put them at their ease after arrival. In general, assistance should be offered but not forced on people.
- Many different adjustments can be made to accommodate the needs of people with disabilities. In the sections on specific disabilities later in these guidelines, advice is given on the disabilities most frequently encountered. It would be impossible to produce a definitive list; there are many different people with many different kinds of disabilities to varying degrees, and some may have multiple disabilities. Broadly speaking, however, adjustments can be made to:
- The assessment itself, such as large print or Braille versions of assessments. Changes to the assessment itself seem attractive because they demonstrate that the organization is taking the needs of the candidate seriously, and the ‘work’ is done by the test publisher rather than by the assessor. However, such changes are not always easily done, and suitably adapted versions of tests may not be available at short notice. Some assessments may be difficult or impossible to adapt—for example, Braille reading of diagrammatic tests is not straightforward. Employers and other users should also be aware that there is no such thing as the single standard adapted version of an assessment. Taking visual disabilities and paper materials as an example, some candidates may prefer large print versions, some large print versions on backgrounds of a specific colour, some Braille, some a combination of Braille text and large print images (or vice versa), some a version which can be scanned via a magnifying device or reader, and so on. Computer-based assessments present another set of possibilities. This demonstrates that it is important to consult the candidate as to what will work for them.
- The assessment process and ancillary materials. Many minor changes to materials may be quickly and easily accomplished, such as producing an enlarged version of an answer sheet. Assessors may also need to change the instructions slightly or make other minor changes.
- Timing. Speeded tests can present problems for people with certain disabilities. For example, an individual using a magnifying device will take longer to scan the page than other candidates, so that in any given time they will be able to spend less time actually ‘doing’ a timed ability test. Similarly, having someone else to fill in the answer sheet for you will add to the time. Employers may wish to use an untimed power test, or to be more flexible about time limits.
- The equipment available—providing or ensuring that the candidate can provide special software, magnifying devices, hearing aids, and so on.
- The testing room—looking at access (for example, for wheelchair users), lighting, heating, and so on.
- The help available—for example, providing signers, people to help fill in answer sheets or turn pages, or people to read out questions.
- Much of this advice relates to the use of ability tests and other measures of maximal performance. This does not mean that care should not be taken with the use of personality questionnaires, but it is true that they are less likely to be problematic. Many of the issues around testing people with disabilities, such as time limits or dealing with graphical/pictorial material, do not apply to personality questionnaires, and it is much less likely that candidates with disabilities will be treated less favorably than candidates without disabilities. If a candidate has been excused from completing the ability tests in a selection process, this does not automatically mean that they must be excused from completing the personality questionnaire.
- The advice given in these guidelines may seem to go against the principle of having standardized tests which are the same for everyone. In fact, there is no contradiction. The testing situation is different anyway; the process of making a reasonable adjustment simply goes some way toward bringing the whole process of the test-person interaction for the candidate with a disability into line with the experience of other candidates.
- The list of specific disabilities below reflects the issues which are most seen in practice.
Candidates with visual disabilities
Phrases such as ‘visual impairment’, ‘visual disability’, ‘partially sighted’ and ‘blind’ cover a wide range. Many people in this broad group will have some sight, and different individuals will have very different ways of working in an assessment situation. As mentioned above, it is very important that the employer talks to candidates well before a session to determine what adjustments need to be made.
Computer-based assessments may give rise to particular issues. Many people with visual impairments have developed a range of strategies and tools in order to use computers effectively, such as speech synthesisers, screen magnifiers, changes to fonts, Braille display of written text, and so on. These may not function well with computer-administered tests, which typically control the way in which information is presented, and may not allow for adjustments such as additional time. Online tests, administered remotely via the internet, provide an additional concern in that there is no human presence to help with the testing process. The Myers-Briggs Company’s advice should be sought about specific cases related to our own psychometric tests.
Possible adjustments for paper based tests might include:
- Computer scanning. Some candidates may ask for assessment materials to be scanned onto computer, from where they can change font sizes, use voice software etc. Again, permission must be sought in advance, and The Myers-Briggs Company will generally grant this, subject to any restrictions imposed by its licensors and provided the computer copy is destroyed after the testing session.
- Large print versions of assessments. Subject to any restrictions from its own licensors, The Myers-Briggs Company will typically allow clients to make large print photocopies of assessments on a case-by-case basis, but users must ask us for permission first. When producing large print versions, all the materials should be considered—booklet, answer sheet, information booklets, etc. Note that some assessments with a lot of physical materials, such as some in-tray exercises, may become unwieldy and impractical when rendered in large print. If possible, it is generally preferable to keep the original page size (e.g., A4 or letter size), as some candidates may read by picking up materials and holding them close to their eyes. Different candidates will prefer different degrees of enlargement—those with a mild impairment may request only a small degree, e.g., to 14pt, as this is quicker to read than, say, 22pt text. Enlargements greater than 22pt or 24pt are often impractical, and it may not be possible to enlarge tests containing figures and graphs even to this degree. For these reasons, it is not always possible to produce a single “standard” large print version of an assessment.
- Magnifiers. Some candidates will bring, or ask to be provided with, magnifying devices; they should of course be allowed to use these.
- Braille versions of tests. Although this would seem to be an obvious solution, Braille tests may in fact only be suitable in some cases, for several reasons:
- Many people with a visual disability will have very limited or zero proficiency in Braille; most estimates are that less than 5% of this group read Braille fluently. Employers should never assume that a candidate is proficient in this language.
- Not all assessments will be available in Braille, and “translation” into Braille will not necessarily be quick or easy. While computer software has in theory made Braille adaptation much more straightforward, in practice this process can still be problematic. For example, there are varying conventions as to how tabular material is best presented in Braille, and different candidates may find one format easier than another.
- Some assessments may be very difficult or impossible to render effectively into Braille, for example tests that include pictures, figures, graphs, and tables.
- Reading. Assessments can be transcribed onto a computer audio file, or read out by an amanuensis (a physical reader in the assessment room), although this is only really suitable for assessments without graphical content. In addition, the use of an amanuensis for any personality inventories that ask questions which appear to be in any way confidential could be challenged by candidates, or candidates may be deterred from giving an honest answer. An amanuensis would also be required to record the candidate’s responses.
- Adjustments to timing. All the methods mentioned above will tend to increase the time taken by a candidate, and additional time should be given. It is difficult to give hard and fast rules for this, but often up to half as much time again will be needed. Administrators may find it useful to see how candidates perform after different time limits by getting them to note how far they have reached at, say, 10-minute intervals after the “standard” test duration. If more than one test is to be administered, it is a good idea to administer the less time-pressured one first, and use the time taken to complete this test as a guideline for how long to allow for the subsequent tests.
- While not strictly an adjustment, correct lighting is extremely important. Low light levels, uneven light, lighting which produces glare on assessment materials and so on, are likely to have a greater impact on a visually impaired candidate. Assessors may wish to check the room’s lighting levels with the candidate before any actual assessment begins.
It can be seen that the type of adjustment needed will depend both on the particular nature of the candidate’s visual disability and also on the nature of the assessment material. When asked about what adjustments will work best for them, candidates should be given sufficient information about the nature and the format of the assessment to allow them to make an informed decision, with the caveat that not all adjustments may always be practicable or possible.
Candidates with visual dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dyspraxia (DCD)
Though estimates vary from country to country, between 9 and 15% of people in North America and Europe have symptoms of dyslexia to some degree and they represent the largest single group of people with disabilities who are likely to undertake selection assessments. While dyslexia mainly affects reading and spelling, people with dyslexia, as well as those with dyscalculia and dyspraxia (also known as developmental co-ordination disorder, DCD), often also have difficulties in organizing and planning. Although some authorities believe that people with these impairments may tend to be more creative or innovative than others, these candidates are likely to be at a disadvantage in a timed multiple-choice ability test where there is a need to quickly read and mentally organize information and then choose from a selection of set answers.
Many people with such impairments will have had a formal assessment which may help them decide how best to approach an assessment session. Several adjustments can be made when testing people with these impairments, including:
- Having an administrator read the instructions aloud and explain the examples (as opposed to simply allowing the candidate to read the instructions). This is standard practice for many ability tests but may have an implication for the use of online or other computerized assessments, where spoken instruction is not usually available. In some cases, it may be possible to use synthesized speech.
- The use of synthesized speech, via a text reader and computer, may be useful for some candidates.
- Allowing additional time. Many candidates will have been given extra time in public examinations and asking them about this can provide a good initial basis for timing adjustments. As with testing people with a visual impairment, the administrator can ask the candidate to mark testing materials with the number of questions completed at specific time intervals.
As with any assessment situation, it is important to consider how the mechanics of the assessment relate to the skill being tested and to the specific disability of the candidate. If, for example, a central and essential part of the job requires rapid reading and assimilation of written information, and there is no way around this, then it is very clear why a test containing a great deal of written information might be appropriate, irrespective of an individual’s disability. If this is not the case, then it is more difficult to justify the use of such a test with a dyslexic candidate.
Candidates with neurodiverse conditions
Any aspect of cognitive functioning different to that generally seen as ‘normal’ can be described as neurodiverse. This broad definition can include a wide variety of neurodevelopmental and mental health conditions, such as autism spectrum disorders (ASD), attention hyperactivity deficit disorder (ADHD) or attention deficit disorder (ADD), and personality disorders. Dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dyspraxia (DCD), treated under a separate heading above, are often also seen as a form of neurodiversity. Some neurodiverse individuals may have difficulties in communication or in maintaining attention; others may be extremely sensitive to aspects of their physical environment; others may suffer from negative feelings and obsessional thoughts; others may show any or several of a very wide range other characteristics. Many conditions seen as neurodiverse may have both positive and negative aspects. For example, people with ADHD can experience impulsivity, hyperactivity, and distractedness, and those with ADD can experience inattention and distractedness. People with either impairment may have difficulty following instructions and completing tasks, but they may also bring a great deal of focus, enthusiasm, and creativity to tasks that interest them.
Given the wide range of characteristics, it is important for employers to talk with candidates who disclose a neurodiverse condition before they attend any assessment session to find out what assessment method would work best for them. A conversation about how they approach everyday tasks may also be useful to help decide on any adjustments to the assessment methods. Employers should also consider:
- Ensuring that all communication throughout the whole assessment process is clear and straightforward, thereby supporting candidates with communication difficulties.
- Checking that the instructions and content of all assessments is easy to understand, and that all assessments have a clearly stated purpose. Employers should be ready to support candidates who require clarification around the testing process and provide contact information when administering assessments remotely, so that candidates have someone to contact with any questions.
- Making adjustments for candidates who are hypersensitive to sensory stimuli, such as allowing adjustments to display and contrast settings in online or other computer-administered assessments, or avoiding including such candidates in large assessment groups in face-to-face settings. Allowing additional time may also be appropriate.
- If administering the assessment in-person, inviting the candidate to bring a supporter along with them to be present through the session.
- If administering the assessment remotely online, where possible making this available in alternative formats, such as providing recorded instructions, and where appropriate (and desired by the candidate) allowing a supporter to be present with them.
- ‘Gamified’ tests can be a challenge for neurodiverse people. These assessments can be visually complex, the ‘rules’ may be unclear, the assessment may be very speed driven, and test-taking anxiety may be high. Discuss these issues with the candidate and consider using a more traditional ability test if appropriate.
- Situational judgement tests (SJTs) and some interviews include hypothetical questions. These can be very difficult for some autistic and other neurodivergent candidates to answer, because of how the questions are worded and because the context behind why these questions are being asked might not be clear. If SJTs are to be used, employers should consider:
- Providing access to a practice SJT online. If a candidate finds the practice SJT very difficult, consider using a different type of psychometric test with them.
- Reading out the questions to the candidate, adding context (for example, ‘I am asking you this next question to understand how you would go about prioritizing two competing work deadlines.’) and being available to answer questions.
- Neurodiverse people can find personality questionnaires extremely useful in a development context, for example by helping them to understand other people more fully. In selection contexts, however, several factors should be considered:
- Some personality inventories were originally developed for clinical and diagnostic use, and as such may contain questions relating to a candidate’s health or disability. These assessments are in general inappropriate for use in selection anyway, but they may also be unlawful under the terms of legislation such as the UK Equality Act or the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Employers should only use personality assessments developed and validated for occupational use.
- Some groups supportive of neurodivergent people’s rights have been critical of personality questionnaires and, in particular, of the way in which they can be used in selection. It is always important to use valid assessments in selection, and to have explicit, clear and demonstrably valid reasons for using them in the context of a particular job. However, the reasons behind the use of a personality assessment may not always be obvious to candidates. It is important that assessors and administrators know exactly why and how the questionnaire results will be used, and are able to explain this when asked. Assessors may also consider giving this explanation up-front.
- Some candidates may want to know more about the context in which they should respond to a question. As with other assessments, ensure that the instructions for completing the questionnaire are very clear and straightforward, and provide the overall context as to why the assessment is being used. Be available to answer any questions as the candidate completes the assessment, either face to face or, for online assessment, via video link or online chat.
Candidates with hearing disabilities
Most ability tests and personality questionnaires are visual in nature, and therefore little or no adjustment is likely to be needed to the assessment itself. However, several adjustments should be considered in the way in which testing is carried out.
- Employers should consult the candidate as to what method of administration will work best—for example, whether they can lip-read, or whether an interpreter (“signer”) is required. If an interpreter is used, they should be next to the candidate and the administrator should ensure that they look at the candidate, not the interpreter.
- Administrators should talk in a clear and deliberate way, but not exaggeratedly slowly, or by shouting. They should look directly at the candidate and avoid covering their mouth or turning away (this makes lip-reading difficult).
- One-to-one assessment is preferable, but if the candidate is tested as part of a group, they should sit where they have a clear view of the administrator.
- Candidates might not speak fluently and should be consulted as to how they wish to ask any questions during the assessment process; they may need to be provided with paper in order to do so. The administrator may also need to write down any explanations or additional instructions.
- Administrators should remember that, for fluent signers, a sign language is often their ‘first’ language and spoken—and written—language comes second. Where a candidate wishes to use sign language, it is important to establish which variant they best understand. For example, British Sign Language (BSL), American Sign Language (ASL) and Australian Sign Language (Auslan) are different from each other. Candidates from North America (and elsewhere) are unlikely to understand BSL and vice versa..
Some assessments may be unsuitable for candidates with a hearing impairment, such as most group exercises, or computer-based tests with uncaptioned audio or video content. As many candidates may also have difficulties with oral communication, exercises such as presentations, role plays, and negotiation exercises are also likely to require adjustments.
Candidates with a motor impairment
Some adjustments may need to be made when testing candidates with a motor impairment:
- Straightforward access to the assessment room and other facilities should be organized, for wheelchair users and others.
- Desks, tables, chairs, and other equipment should be at a suitable height, or adjustable.
- Candidates may need to bring along software, computers, or specialist equipment which should be accommodated (e.g., by providing sufficient space, power points, time for setup etc.).
- Some candidates may have difficulty handling assessment materials, or turning pages, although many will have equipment to help them to do this. Issues may, however, arise when an assessment requires multiple booklets or materials or quick manipulation of multiple windows (such as paper or computer-administered in-tray exercises). Candidates should be made aware of the format of materials and consulted as to the best approach.
- Alternative methods may be needed to notate the answers to questions; candidates may be unable to fill in an answer circle on an answer sheet, and it is unlikely that this ability is related to the skill or attribute the test is measuring. Notating answers might involve specialized equipment or the use of an amanuensis; in either case, more time may need to be allowed for the test.
- If administering an assessment remotely online, ask whether the candidate can use a mouse and keyboard. If not, consider whether they can navigate the page with ease using alternative means, such as tabbing or auto-completion forms. Where a computer-administered test is not readily adaptable to the specialized requirements of a candidates, an alternative should be used.
- Longer breaks may need to be allowed between tests, or breaks allowed for during longer exercises (such as personality questionnaires or in-trays).
- When administering a test to a wheelchair user, test administrators may prefer to sit down rather than stand. Crouching or bending over rather than sitting may appear patronizing..
Candidates with a speech impairment
Candidates with a speech impairment, such as a severe stammer, may be less likely to ask questions, especially in a group testing session; this could, in some, circumstances put them at a disadvantage. Administrators may wish to consider one-to-one assessment, or asking candidates for questions individually, rather than asking the whole group.
Candidates with a learning disability
It is not generally recommended that standard occupational ability tests are used in selection scenarios for candidates with learning disabilities. Standard personality questionnaires may also be unsuitable, including certain of the assessments available from The Myers-Briggs Company, including the MBTI assessment. Furthermore, candidates with learning disabilities may not understand the questions, resulting in an inaccurate profile.
4. Interpreting and using assessment results
A key advantage of psychometric assessments is that they are standardized; all candidates take the same test in the same way, and their results are compared using a common norm group or scoring system. When assessing people with disabilities, conditions are no longer standardized in quite the same way, and results need to be interpreted with caution. Nevertheless, some general rules can be identified:
- Scoring will typically be done in the usual way, although additional care should be taken with paper materials where marks or numbers need to be transferred from, for example, a large print version of an answer sheet. Scorers should look out for any positional errors in answer sheet completion. It is also worthwhile noting down additional information such as the number of questions completed, number of questions right and wrong (and hence accuracy) and, if available, scores at different time intervals recorded during any additional time given.
- Comparing ability test results with a norm group is problematic. Where extra time has been given, employers should look at the standard score achieved at different time limits and look at accuracy. This may give a feel for the candidate’s “true” level of ability. There are, however, no definitive rules which can be given here. It is important to try to look at a candidate’s level of performance as compared with the requirements of the job, rather than simply comparing their results numerically against other candidates. This may involve bringing in other information relating to their ability from other sources.
- One specific area to consider concerns the Standard Error of Measurement (SEM). A test is likely to be a less reliable measure of the ability of a candidate with a disability than it is of another candidate. As a result, the SEM published in the test manual is likely to be an underestimate. As a rule of thumb, employers may consider doubling the value of the SEM when interpreting the test results of a person with a disability.
- Another specific question concerns the use of “cut-off” scores in selection. An employer may have decided only to recruit people who achieve a certain test score or better and reject those who do not reach this level. Ideally such cut-off scores will have been determined as part of a validation study. Applying the standard cut-off to a candidate with a disability may be inappropriate and a more flexible approach should be applied.
- Many selection systems now employ algorithms in order to rank candidates in order, or to assign a pass, possible, or fail rating to each candidate. As with cut-off scores, this may not be appropriate for a candidate with a disability, and there should be a way of by-passing the algorithm where necessary. The same considerations apply when selection systems have been developed using machine learning or other forms of artificial intelligence (AI); it is unlikely that the algorithms embedded in such systems will have been developed using people with disabilities, and therefore they may not be valid for them. Where organizations are using automated systems to allow line managers to make hiring decisions, line managers should be made aware of these issues and be able to consult an HR or assessment specialist for advice.
- Employers may be tempted to ask for a norm group composed of applicants with disabilities. This would not be appropriate. In any selection process, whether or not applicants with disabilities are involved, the norm group most suitable to the job being applied for should be used. Also, producing a “representative group of people with disabilities” would be an impossible task. Every person is different, every impairment is different and interacts with ability test performance in different ways. This is clearly true of people with disabilities as a whole, but is also true of groups of people with similar disabilities. Blind or partially sighted people, for example, are not a single homogeneous group whose abilities are solely defined by their disability.
- In many ways, the interpretation of personality questionnaire results of people with disabilities is likely to be more straightforward than the results of ability tests, and there is often no reason why personality questionnaire results should not be interpreted in the standard way. There are, however, some additional considerations:
- The personality questionnaires used by HR practitioners are designed to be used with individuals within the “normal range” of human personality and are NOT designed to be used as diagnostic or counselling tools for people with mental illness or a mental health issue, or to diagnose some aspect of neurodiversity. While there may be some resemblance between the scales of a standard personality questionnaire and aspects of a neurodivergent condition, these are not the same thing. Although there is much discussion in online forums about topics such as the ‘autistic personality’ or ‘what type is most likely to have ADHD’, there is little solid research and standard personality questionnaires should not be used for diagnostic purposes.
- All the questions within any one dimension of scale of a personality questionnaire have been statistically analysed to check that these items reliably measure that dimension or scale. However, occupational personality assessments have been developed using trial samples of neurotypical adults, leaving open the possibility that some items may not work so well for individuals who show less typical behaviors—that is to say, neurodivergent people. This does not mean that personality questionnaires should not be used with neurodivergent people; for most, the results will still be accurate. However, for some people with some neurodivergent conditions, some scales may not be as accurate as they would be for most neurotypical people. The scales affected will depend on the condition. In practice, this means that while interactive feedback of personality questionnaire results is strongly recommended for all groups, it is arguably essential for neurodiverse people in order to check the accuracy of their scores.
- The use of a questionnaire with a high vocabulary level with individuals with a learning disability would be would inappropriate and is likely to give unreliable results.
5. Appendix: contact details
Action on Hearing Loss
Tel: 0808 808 0123
(Contact via web form)
Blind in Business
Tel: 020 7588 1885
British Dyslexia Association
Switchboard: 0333 405 4555
Helpline: 0333 405 4567
British Psychological Society
To download a number of guidelines on testing people with disabilities, go to:
British Stammering Association
Tel: 0808 802 0002
Business Disability Forum
Tel: 020 7403 3020
Disability Unit (UK Government)
Office: 01462 455 916
Helpline: 01462 454 986
Employers’ for Disability Northern Ireland
Tel: 028 4062 4526
Equality and Human Rights Commission
(Contact via web form)
Switchboard: 020 7454 0454
Helpline: 0808 808 1111
National Autistic Society
Tel: 0207 833 2299
RNIB (Royal National Institute of Blind People)
Helpline: 0303 123 9999
Helpline: 0808 800 3333