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Handling Disability Disclosure When Applying For Work

Posted on October 17 2019

Handling Disability Disclosure When Applying For Work

Congratulations! You’ve landed a job interview! But, if you have a disability, the next question is often “What now?!”. At some point in the recruitment process you’ll be weighing up the pros and cons of disclosing your disability, and hoping your choice won’t affect your chances of landing that golden position. These 5 tips help you handle disability disclosure to your advantage:  


Disability disclosure and the law

First, you have to realize that you’re legally protected from discrimination in the workplace. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) makes it illegal to discriminate against any qualified person based on their disability. You must satisfy the requirements for the job (e.g. education and licenses) and be able to perform the essential functions of the job you apply for, but your prospective employer is also obliged to accommodate your needs. This means they’re required, by law, to modify the working environment to make it possible for you to perform your function. They also cannot refuse to hire you because your disability prevents you from performing duties that aren’t essential to the position. 


Workplace accommodations and what you’re entitled to

An “accommodation” is any change made to a job or work place that helps you to participate in the application process, perform the job’s essential functions or to enjoy perks identical/equivalent to your colleagues without disabilities. While the law is on your side, you have a responsibility to make sure that you only ask for reasonable accommodations from your employer. Reasonable accommodations may include a modified work schedule, making the workplace wheelchair-accessible or installing a stair lift (providing a portable stair chair is also an option!). If the accommodation doesn’t cause your employer significant difficulty or expense (“undue hardship”), you’re more than welcome to ask for it. 


The best time to disclose

You’re not legally required to disclose your disability, but that means your employer has no obligation to provide accommodations. This may guide your decision to disclose or not: Do you need the help of accommodations in order to do the job you’re applying for? Read the job description of the post you’re applying for, and give it some thought. Remember: Not being upfront about your disability can make attending the interview more nerve-wracking than necessary. For example, it could leave you sweating about access, when you should be focussed on preparing for questions that assess your ability to do the job!      


How to handle your interview

It’s a great sign when a company has advertised that workplace accommodations are the norm. Look out for contact details on the job listing that shares who to contact in case of a disability or special need, or target positions at companies known to hire people with disabilities. That way, when you’re at the interview, you’ll increase your chances of being able to focus on what’s important: demonstrating how well you can perform the job you’ve applied for! Remember, a prospective employer cannot ask you if you are disabled, or ask about the nature or severity of your disability. Disclosure is up to you. 


Risks of disclosure, and how to mitigate them

In an ideal world, you wouldn’t even need to be protected by law — the question of discriminating against someone because of their impairment wouldn’t even cross anyone’s mind, and equality would be a no-brainer. Unfortunately, chances are you’ll run the risk of some sort of discrimination, somewhere along the way. These stigmas often arise because people are afraid of what they don’t understand (it’s a rather tiresome, basic human trait). While you’re under no obligation to be an unofficial ambassador-cum-educator on disability rights, understanding that your colleagues may not even always be aware of their prejudices will help you on the long road of undoing their perceptions by simply being who you are. But your emotional well-being comes first, so it may be a good idea to reach out to your support network regularly! 


Disclosure is the only surefire way to get the accommodations you may need to land the job you want. Spend time anticipating a prospective employer’s questions on how you plan to overcome the challenges your disability brings to the table. If you have a visible disability — such as a mobility impairment — avoiding this may not be an option. Arm yourself with the knowledge you need to be prepared by visiting our resource page. It covers more than just disclosure, so you’ll get a well-rounded view of the whole career-building process, especially geared to take into account your needs as someone with an impairment.

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