Disclosing a Disability

By Andrea Fenwick

When interviewing for a job, many people worry about saying the wrong thing.  For people with disabilities, this can be even more of a concern, especially if your disability is not apparent to the average person, like low vision, gastrointestinal issues, anxiety disorders, or learning disabilities like dyslexia.

The current employment landscape can be difficult to navigate. COVID-19 has limited face-to-face interviews and positions outside of the home. Even in the distant “normal “past, it’s easy to understand why someone would not want to disclose their disability to a potential employer. Now more than ever, with these new technology challenges and limited job opportunities, people are nervous about disclosing anything that does not present themselves in the best light.  That’s how you secure the job.

Deciding whether to disclose your disability can be stressful.  Legally, you don’t have to reveal it, the law is on your side, but is that really fair to the employer? Ethically, is it fair to withhold information that may or may not affect your ability to do the job?  The bottom line is that it’s a personal decision.  You have to examine the pros and cons.

The Pros

The main benefit to disclosing your disability is to secure accommodations from the employer to help you perform the job.  Once you choose to disclose, the question becomes when to do it.  This can be prior to your interview, during the interview, or once you’re working on the job.

  • Prior to the interview– If you are going to need an accommodation for the interview, then you will need to disclose early. For example, if you are in a wheelchair you will need to ask ahead of time if the building is handicap accessible.  Additionally, if you have a condition that could be uncomfortable or distracting during the interview, you might want to make it known to the interviewer. With many of the interviews and even employment occurring online because of COVID-19, this consideration may not apply.
  • During the interview– If it becomes apparent that you would not be able to perform the job functions because of your disability, you may want to disclose this. It will allow you to bring accommodations into the conversation and thereby show the employer that you are still qualified to do the job.
  • On the job– Once the employer has been made aware that you need an accommodation, they are legally obligated to provide it for you.  Accommodations can range from making a building more handicap accessible to providing software or other assistive technology at your individual workspace.

The Cons

Depending on the nature of your disability, some people can find it embarrassing to reveal or talk about it. Not knowing the workplace culture only adds to apprehension.  You don’t know how you will be perceived by the employer and other employees.  The fear of discrimination based on your disability is a real concern.  Making your disability known may lead to misconceptions, negativity, and pre-judgment of your ability to handle job duties and responsibilities.  This is especially true when the hidden disability is related to a mental health condition.  You may choose not to disclose for a very simple reason, the right to privacy.

Job coaches will tell you only disclose if it’s going to impact your ability to do your job.  But if the employer does not know, then they are not obligated to make accommodations.  And that might cause you to struggle in the position.

Only mention your disability if it’s actually going to affect your job performance.  And if it is, tell them you would need accommodations.  For instance, if you have low vision and are interviewing for a stock clerk position, you will benefit from using a Ruby magnifying device, assistive technology to enhance the size of print.

One very important thing to remember is that no matter what you decide to reveal to a potential employer, always make sure your disability and need for accommodations is secondary to your qualifications and ability to do the essential functions of the job.  If your disability won’t affect your job, then skip it, and focus on what you CAN do.  Make sure they know all your strengths and qualifications that make you a good candidate.

Many employers will offer accommodations once they are convinced, you’re the best person for the job.

Andrea Fenwick is Senior Manager of Employment Support Services at the JCS Ignite Career Center.

Whether you are new to the job market or a seasoned professional, the Ignite Career Center, a program of Jewish Community Services, can help you go farther and get there faster.  Our highly experienced Career Coaches provide individuals of all backgrounds and abilities with the customized services and tools they need to stand out from the competition.  For information, call 410-466-9200 or contact us through our website.

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