One issue that many job hunters with disabilities will face is disclosure. Should you inform a prospective employer about your disability? If so, when? While every situation is different, here are a few things to consider when making this important decision.
Of course, when you apply for a job through JobDoozy, employers come here looking to hire people with disabilities. However, the employer will not know the nature or extent of your disability, so choosing what and how much to disclose is still an issue.
Some people with disabilities may need reasonable accommodations to do a particular job. According to the US Department of Justice, a reasonable accommodation is a “modification or adjustment to a job or the work environment that will enable a qualified applicant or employee with a disability to participate in the application process or to perform essential job functions.”
For example, in order to work on a computer, someone who is blind might need their employer to provide screen reader software. In order to work as a bank teller, someone who uses a wheelchair may need their employer to lower a counter space.
If your employer is unaware of your disability, they have no legal obligation to provide you with a reasonable accommodation. If you need an accommodation to perform a job or to apply for one, you will need to disclose your disability at some point.
However, you do not have to disclose more information about your disability than necessary to make the case for the accommodation. For example, if you have low vision, you would have to disclose your disability for your employer to be obligated to provide you with a large print employee handbook, screen reader software, etc. However, you would not be obligated to tell them the exact medical cause of your low vision.
Job applicants and employees are not guaranteed to get every accommodation. There are several reasons why an employer might not be required to grant an accommodation. The two most common are:
- Providing an accommodation might be an “undue hardship”. An accommodation might be so difficult or expensive that an employer is not legally required to provide it. Whether an accommodation is an undue hardship must be decided on a case-by-case basis. Generally speaking, an accommodation is more likely to be judged a hardship if the employer is a small business with limited resources.
- Employers are not obligated to provide an accommodation if, even with that accommodation, an employee will still not be able to perform the essential functions of the job. For example, a bank may not be legally required to lower counter spaces for a job applicant who uses a wheelchair, if that applicant does not have the needed math skills.
If you are considering disclosing your disability to your employer or to a potential employer, it may make you more comfortable to research their history with disability. Have they hired people with disabilities before? Does their website or hiring materials include a diversity statement that mentions disabilities? Has the company been involved with any disability-related organizations, such as sponsoring an event, donating to a fund raiser, or posting openings to disability-focused jobs sites like this one? Are they a federal contractor or federal government employer?
Also, consider researching the company environment. Companies that offer their employees flexible ways to work, such as telecommuting or flexible work schedules, may be more flexible with employees who need accommodations.
If you decide to disclose your disability, the next thing to consider is when. In the vast majority of cases, it is probably not necessary to disclose in your resume or cover letter. If you are seeking a job with a disability-related organization, there may be some benefit to disclosing that early in the hiring process, but again, it is likely not necessary. So, when should you disclose?
If you need an accommodation during the interview, such as an American Sign Language interpreter, or if you want to confirm that the interview location is wheelchair accessible, it may be best to disclose during the pre-interview stage. You may also wish to disclose during the pre-interview stage if there will be tests or applications and you need more time to complete them, large print, or other accommodations.
If you do not need an accommodation during the interview, but you have a visible disability, it may be a good idea to wait to disclose until the interview itself. Disclosing during the interview may also be a good idea if your disability has resulted in a gap in your employment history.
If your disability is not immediately visible, you might wait until after you are offered the job, or until after you have started work and had an opportunity to prove your value to the company. Your decision here may depend on when you think you are likely to need an accommodation. Some people with disabilities that are episodic wait until the first time they have symptoms to disclose.
How should you disclose? In order to present yourself in the best possible light, it is important to focus on solutions, not problems. Your disclosure should focus on your skills, show that you are able to face challenges in a positive manner, and find solutions and workarounds for problems. Don’t just ask for an accommodation. Include the strategies you have for coping with your disability.
“I can sell widgets like nobody’s business, and my sense of humor and smile make customers love me. I have arthritis in my hands, so I need text-to-speech software, but other than typing, my computer skills are top notch. If I’m away from my computer and need to make notes, I always carry my tape recorder.”
“I have five years of experience in retail sales, and I hope to have many more, because I just love meeting new people and making them smile. I have a learning disability that affects my memory, so I find written instructions more helpful than verbal. Because I write so much down, I’ve gotten very good at taking notes and keeping organized.”
You may also wish to address common myths or assumptions about your particular disability. Some people might assume that anyone who uses a wheelchair is unable to get to work by themselves. You might point out that the workplace is on a bus line, or that you drive a wheelchair-accessible vehicle, or have some other transportation solution.
However you disclose, it is helpful to be familiar with your rights under state and federal disability laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act. See the links below for more information.
Sources and more information:
Note: Jobdoozy staff are not lawyers and this article is not legal advice.