Advancing disability rights and leadership globally®

10 Recruitment Tips to Attract People with Disabilities

Group of students in an international park, one uses a wheelchair
Group of students in an international park, one uses a wheelchair

You want more people with disabilities in your international programs but they are not applying! What can you do to encourage more participation? Here’s 10 ways to boost interest.

1) Add Promotional Messages and Welcoming Language

Not only will it catch their attention, but it may shift someone away from thinking “It’s not for me.” Examples include:

  • “We encourage people with disabilities and from other diverse backgrounds to apply. We do not discriminate based on disability.”
  • “We provide reasonable accommodations as needed to people with disabilities.”
  • “Our materials are available in alternative formats (braille, electronic, large print, etc.) upon request.”
  • “Our office is wheelchair-accessible.”
  • “Our participants reflect a wide range of socioeconomic, cultural and religious affiliations within their countries, including people with disabilities.”

Recruitment materials such as brochures, websites and posters should include images of people with disabilities, and, if possible, quotes by participants with disabilities who have participated successfully. A picture and/or quote from an exchange participant who uses a wheelchair or a white cane sends a powerful message to potential applicants, parents, school administrators, leaders in the disability community, and others, that students with disabilities are welcome to participate and have successful experiences abroad.

2) Broaden Media Resources

Solicit stories from the participants and staff with disabilities involved in the program and disseminate and include their stories in your organization’s websites, brochures, social media, newsletters and other media that is used for all audiences. Include disability print and social media sites on distribution lists for program outreach and application deadlines. 

3) Network with Local, Regional and National Organizations

Identifying contacts at organizations that are led by and work with people with disabilities is essential to recruiting and accommodating participants with disabilities in international exchange.

University disability services offices, local independent living centers, rehabilitation organizations, adaptive recreation programs, parents organizations, special education departments or schools, disability rights organizations and support groups are critical sources of knowledge and support.

Doing personal outreach and in-person presentations/advising with potential applicants at these organizations makes a difference.

4) Provide Scholarships

Financial assistance is one of the best tools for encouraging the participation of populations usually underrepresented. Offer scholarships specifically for people with disabilities.

Also ensure broader scholarships and fellowships are awarded to a diversity of applicants. Educate the scholarship review committee about these diversity expectations.

When sending out materials about broader scholarship or fellowships, point out to school administrators, overseas advisors, and employers that those with disabilities are encouraged to apply and will be accommodated. Until program recruiters inform them otherwise, some may never think to encourage people with disabilities to consider a prestigious opportunity.

5) Utilize Peer and Family Connections

Offer to put individuals with disabilities who are considering applying in contact with program alumni with disabilities. For young people with disabilities, their parents often play a larger role in their lives for a longer period of time. If your program materials or connections with alumni’s parents can convince the parent that this is a worthwhile experience, you may have a better chance of the person with the disability participating in your program.

Make time to talk with the potential participant and their parent during the early phases of recruitment. When answers to questions about accessibility or safety in the United States are unknown, say, “I’ve never been asked that question, but I am going to find out for you. I do know that students with all types of disabilities have participated in this program.”

6) Promote Disability Inclusion as an Organizational Value

Convey the message that your organization values diversity and inclusion. Program administrators should foster a commitment to including people with disabilities at all levels of their organization, and should work with overseas partners and affiliated organizations to provide accessible program design and develop policies that support inclusion.

7) Budget for Reasonable Accommodations

Many organizations are concerned about the cost of making programs accessible to people with disabilities, so incorporating a “disability accommodation” line item into every project and administrative budget is the most reliable way to ensure that resources are there when needed (1-3% of program costs is usually adequate).

Also have outreach materials and applications ready (or know where you can get them) in accessible formats. People with disabilities may be more willing to apply if they know of an organization’s commitment to support inclusive participation.

8) Train Staff and Volunteers

Ensure that disability-inclusive policies are communicated to all staff members and volunteers in an organization. Interaction with an unsupportive or uninformed staff member can negate otherwise positive recruitment efforts.

People who are involved in any aspect of promoting the organization’s programs—whether answering phones, attending conferences, giving community presentations or other public relations activities—should be prepared to answer questions about the program’s policy on including people with disabilities.

A positive attitude is perhaps the best recruitment tool an organization can have.

9) Provide Equal Access to the Screening and Selection Process

Most international programs use sophisticated techniques for screening applicants for eligibility based on qualifications. Programs need to be careful, for legal and ethical reasons, not to screen out qualified applicants because of their disabilities and perceived limitations.

The selection process must be accessible for students with disabilities and reasonable and appropriate accommodations must be provided to ensure that people with disabilities have fair and equal opportunities to demonstrate their qualifications.

It is appropriate to discuss what accommodations the individual might need to participate in the program only AFTER the participant has been accepted, for example, on a health form that is given to all accepted participants.

10) Diversify Staff and Volunteers

Create a position within the organization that focuses on increasing the diversity of staff, administrators, volunteers and program participants. Fill staff and volunteer positions with qualified individuals who add diversity. Staff members who have disabilities, like people from other minority backgrounds, can bring expertise and perspectives that increase an organization’s capacity to be inclusive.

A person with a disability on a recruiting committee can provide excellent problem-solving insights and help identify other useful contacts.  


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