A little while ago someone asked me about disclosing their disability when applying for a job. The answer I gave was focused on being in control of the process of disclosure, of making sure you choose the time and the place to disclose, and of disclosing in a positive way.
Since then I have been thinking some more about a problem which worried me a good deal when I was setting out on my own career. I took a variety of approaches, sometimes disclosing, sometimes not, and occasionally lying, which I do not recommend under any circumstances.
Disclosure is individual
The difficulty about disclosure is that it is such an individual thing. It depends on your impairment, whether or not it is hidden, whether you might need modifications to your workplace, or particular technology to help you do your job, or whether or not you might need to organise your work differently, or do it in a different way. There is also the fear, sadly, still not entirely unfounded, that discrimination will occur following disclosure.
However you disclose, and at whatever stage of the process, you need to take responsibility. Thoroughly research the job to help you decide. Think about what you need to do the job, and have a plan.
If your impairment is invisible and won’t affect the way you do your work, then the answer is easy, you don’t have to disclose. But if you don’t disclose, and your impairment does affect your job then there may be problems for you. If your impairment is very obvious you can seize the high ground, directing the conversation the way you choose.
How and when
There is no right or wrong way or time for disclosure. Don’t dwell on limitations. Weigh the pros and cons of disclosure at each stage of the job search, recruitment and hiring process, wherever it is appropriate for you. Think about the following stages.
- In a letter of application or cover letter;
- Before an interview;
- At the interview;
- In a third-party phone call or reference;
- After you have a job offer;
- During your course of employment; or
When you do disclose make sure you are clear about your needs in the workplace. Try to anticipate questions you might be asked and have some answers ready. You might like to practice disclosing with someone you trust who will give you feedback. Disclose on a “need to know” basis only.
What information to give
You need to disclose information relevant to the job only. Take the opportunity to explain positively how you might perform particular parts of the job well, perhaps with some modification. You should expect confidentiality with disclosure.
If you do disclose the following may be a useful guide to the information you choose to share.
- General information about your impairment;
- Why you are disclosing;
- How your disability affects your ability to perform key job tasks and any ways you can do things differently;
- Types of accommodations that have worked for you in the past; and
- Types of accommodations you anticipate needing in the workplace;