How To Disclose A Disability To The New Employer blog

Finding a job is stressful enough. With the long process of searching, applying, interviewing, and finally accepting a job offer, you have a lot of work to do. Having a disability can complicate the process even more, especially when it comes time to disclosing your condition to your potential employer.

But there’s one thing you need to keep in mind through the whole process. Much like an athlete doing push-ups with extra weight on their back, having a disability doesn’t make you less than, but more than. Asking for assistance in dealing with it shouldn’t be seen as an inability to do something, but more like support to lift that heavy weight.

Unfortunately, the stigma of having a disability has been complicated by misinformation to employers and fear of reprisal for new employees. To combat this, you need to know your rights and responsibilities.

What is a disability?

To understand your rights, you first need to define what constitutes a disability. A disability is a condition or illness that affects a person’s senses or activities. This can be visible or invisible and be episodic or continuous.

Purposefully vague, the definition truly comes down to how it affects your abilities. While some disabilities are easily observed such as paraplegia, not all are, nor are they easily addressed. Though many people don’t think about it, disabilities include mental health issues such as addiction or anxiety, learning disabilities, and other invisible chronic conditions or health complications such as brain damage.

Pro Tip: It’s important to note that not all disabilities are permanent, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get support.

To disclose or not

The decision to disclose can be difficult. On the one hand, you want to be honest, but there is a fear of reprisal that cause many to hold tight like it’s a state secret. That process of course can make it worse in the long run as an employer feels deceived when you begrudgingly tell them. Becoming comfortable with the disability yourself however is the first step to being comfortable telling others.

When it comes to deciding whether to tell your employer at all, you have to do some soul searching. Take a deep breath and ask yourself whether your disability will affect your ability to perform the job. It isn’t about how well you can do it, but whether you need assistance. It’s important not to let fear or embarrassment affect your decision. If you need support, an employer is obliged to offer it.

Pro tip: It is discrimination for an employer to refuse you accommodation or to dismiss you from your job because of your disability.

There’s no question that employers have their own issues to deal with when faced with supporting a disabled employee. Recognize that the items on the list aren’t necessarily true, but to many employers, they are the barriers they have to think about.

Will the applicant be able to do the job correctly?
Will a person with a disability give the company a negative image?
Will the applicant be able to deal with the emotional or psychological issues related to having a disability?
Will the employer have the funding to accommodate an individual with a disability?
Will the employer have the time to train the individual with a disability?

Reading this list, you can see that most of the issues that employers are trying to understand are based on stereotypes.

When to disclose

So, you’ve decided to inform your employer. It’s at this point you will have to develop a strategy. Your strategy isn’t about hiding the secret until the last moment, but informing the employer when it’s most advantageous to both of you. Much like an interview should never be one-sided, the discussion of your disability is about developing a plan for your ability to perform the tasks the employer is hiring for.

Pro Tip: You are not legally required to disclose your disability if you can do the work without accommodation and your disability does not pose a danger to you or others.

When you apply to a position, there is some research you can help you time your disclosure. Ask yourself the following questions:

Do you need accommodations for the interview?
Do you require accommodations to perform the job?
Has the employer posted a diversity policy or statement indicating that they welcome people with disabilities?
Do you know if the employer has other employees that need accommodation?
Are you prepared to respond to an employer’s misconceptions? This includes whether you possess information and resources to counter the assumptions.
Do you feel comfortable disclosing your disability?
Will not disclosing your disability put you or other employees at risk?
Is there a possibility that they employer will feel deceived if you wait to disclose? If so, are you prepared to deal with that reaction?
Are you prepared to show how you are the best candidate for a position, regardless of your disability?

Pro Tip: Knowing your strengths is the best way to counter any misconceptions. Make it about your abilities, not your disability.

There are five points you can disclose to an employer along your employment journey. Each point presents advantages and disadvantages to you securing the job.

When you are referred by a third party

A recommendation is always a great way to get the job you want. Not only do you get to the person who makes the decisions, but it comes from someone who knows you personally. However, you don’t control the conversation so you may not know how much of your personal information is relayed to the employer.

Pro Tip: Follow up personally with the employer to determine if there is more information they may require.

Within the application or resume

Your cover letter is a great way to show your abilities, explaining why you are the best candidate for a position. Disclosing at this stage allows you to do so without emotions. With such limited space, you need to be concise as you won’t be able to explain if an employer doesn’t understand or has preconceptions. This is a great opportunity if you know the employer has an equity program. You can also show how our disability has helped you develop other strengths.

When an interview is scheduled

You know an employer is interested in you when they call to schedule an interview. Opting to disclose at this point means you give the employer time to think about the disability before the interview. It can be good if the employer takes the time to research your needs or bad if they fall back on stereotypes. It’s important to disclose at this point if your disability is visible or requires accommodation for the interview. An employer doesn’t want to be surprised and having knowledge before gives them the time to research and you time to prepare yourself to show that you’re the best candidate.

During the interview

There is no hiding a disability at this stage if it’s visible. You do however have the opportunity to explain at this point. Disclosing during the interview is often the best point for invisible disabilities for the same reasons. Doing so now reduces the chance of preconceptions clouding the employer’s decisions. You can be prepared with resources and you can focus the conversation on your abilities, not the disability.

After receiving a job offer

This stage is often suggested if your disability won’t affect your ability to work. In fact, if you disclose at this stage and your disability won’t adversely affect your ability to do the work, your job offer cannot be rescinded. Many people believe this to be the best time as it’s also the point at which the employer has shown the most interest in you working for them. The drawback however is you’ve had several interactions with them by this point. Some employers will feel deceived if the disability is significant.

Pro Tip: Employers aren’t the enemy. They are humans just like you and often just need to understand your disability.

How to disclose

Regardless of the point at which you’ve decided to disclose your disability, here are a few tips to make it easier.

Pro Tip: Take the opportunity when an employer says, “Tell me about yourself.”

When explaining your disability, make sure to:

Speak briefly, clearly, and without emotions.
Speak slowly and emphasize the important elements.
Be proactive and explain any accommodations or coping strategies you’ve already developed.
Be direct. Say something like, “I do have a medical issue that I’ve been dealing with, however I believe I am the best candidate for the job.”
Be prepared with resources to explain how your disability shouldn’t be the focus, but something you need some support for.
Don’t use jargon or technical terms to explain your disability. Keep it simple.
Focus on your abilities and how you CAN do the job.

Pro Tip: Practice telling people so it feels and sounds more comfortable when the time comes.

Pro Tip: An interviewer can only ask questions about your disability and how it relates directly to the requirements of the job. Not dealing with disabilities however, they may not know how to react. You are the expert. Lead them through the conversation.

Know your strengths

You want to be comfortable with the job in general. When applying to jobs, understanding your disability will help you focus on your strengths. For instance, if a job requires significant transcription of written letters, it may not be best if you have partial blindness. Your goal is to add value to an organization.

Your research should extend to the company as well. Not only do you want to know if a company has a system in place for those with disabilities, but you want to know if an employer or other employees at the company, have preconceptions that are beyond your ability to change. While you have rights and responsibilities, walking into a volatile situation will only cause you more heartache. You want an employer that not only supports you, but values your contributions.