Part II Accommodation, Disclosure, Legal Rights and Obligations
Disclosing a Disability to an Employer
Many students with disabilities wonder if they should disclose that they have a disability to an employer or prospective employer. There is no right or wrong answer to this question as every situation is different. Disclosure of a disability is a personal decision. The decision to disclose or not, and the timing around disclosure, is completely up to the student based on their needs and the job requirements.
As stated by Disability Alliance BC, “You are not required to tell a potential employer about your disability or health condition if you can do the work required without accommodation and your disability will not pose a danger at work for you or others” (DABC, 2016).
Unfortunately, there are still many misconceptions and stereotypes surrounding disabilities, and not all employers are immune to biases and misinformation. Because of this, some employers may not hire an individual if they know the applicant has a disability. Therefore, disclosing their disability on an application form, resume, or during an interview may place the student at an unfair disadvantage, or may be used to screen them out from other applicants (ALIS, 2016b). Unless they know that they will need accommodations to perform the job, most experts recommend not disclosing until an offer of employment is secured. If the student knows that they will need accommodations to perform the job, they should think carefully about choosing when to disclose. It is also important that they practice and become comfortable with how to disclose their disability, explaining what accommodations they will need, potential sources of funding (if applicable), and discussing their strengths and abilities with the employer.
Making the Decision
In making the decision the student should carefully weigh the pros and cons of disclosure. Each situation will be different, depending on the nature of their disability and the duties they will need to perform. Students should think carefully about their own needs and abilities and intentionally decide if and when they will disclose. One factor that will impact their decision is whether their disability is visible or invisible. Read on for recommendations based on visible and invisible disabilities.
In the case of a visible disability that is obvious to an employer, students should give some forethought to the timing of disclosure. If they need accommodations for the job interview (e.g., ASL interpretation, making sure the interview location is wheelchair accessible, etc.) it would be better to make these arrangements in advance rather than take a potential employer by surprise. This will give the employer time to prepare if alternative arrangements need to be made and will show the employer that the student is proactive and taking initiative.
Depending on the requirements of the job, a prospective employer may have questions about how the student’s disability will impact their ability to perform job-related tasks. Some employers will ask directly about this; others may be hesitant or unsure how to broach the subject. Students should be upfront and honest about their abilities as well as their limitations. Employers may have misconceptions about a student’s disability. Students should be prepared to discuss strategies they have developed for working effectively, and how certain accommodations may remove barriers for them in the workplace. Students should also be prepared to clarify any misconceptions respectfully. Rather than focusing on limitations, encourage the student to talk about their disability positively and be able to explain how their abilities will allow them to meet the requirements of the job. If safety is a concern, they need to discuss this with their employer to ensure their safety and that of co-workers and clients.
It is entirely possible that if a student has an there may be no need to disclose it at all. If the student does not require an accommodation, and if their disability will not have an impact on their job performance, disclosure of an invisible disability is a personal choice. If the student’s safety or the safety of others is a concern then they will need to disclose at an appropriate time (ALIS, 2016c). Otherwise, they will need to weigh the pros and cons of whether to disclose or not and when the best time to do so would be.
When deciding whether to disclose an invisible disability, students can consider the following questions (ALIS, 2016c):
- Will disclosure help or hurt your chances of getting or keeping work?
- How will the employer react?
- What are the misconceptions about your disability and how will you address them if you disclose them?
- If you are effectively managing your disability, would it be in your best interest to disclose it?
- Do your accommodations and strategies allow you to meet the job requirements?
- If you know you can’t perform some of the duties in the job description because of your disability, would disclosure encourage the employer to modify the job to fit your abilities?
Alberta Learning Information Service (ALIS, 2016b) provides these helpful tips for successful disclosure of a disability to a prospective employer:
- If you’ve had little success in disclosure situations or feel uncomfortable, try role playing the disclosure process with supportive friends or family members.
- Be positive. Focus on your skills and qualifications and don’t present your disability as a weakness.
- Be prepared to address any concerns employers might express, even if they’re not expressed directly.
- Know what workplace accommodations you may need, including their availability, cost and funding programs the employer can access.
- Anticipate the employer’s questions about your disclosure and know how you’ll answer them. Use examples.
The following table, adapted from Alberta Learning Information Service (2016b), can help students weigh the pros and cons of disclosure at various points in the hiring process:
|Application, resumé or cover letter
|When the interview is scheduled
|After the interview is scheduled
|Same as above
|Same as above
|When you meet employer
|Reduces risk of employer forming preconceived opinions
|Employers might react negatively to surprise
|Use this method if you are confident you can keep the employer focused on your abilities
|During the interview
|Same as above
|If your disability is not visible, use this option and focus on your abilities
|After receiving a job offer
|If your disability won’t adversely affect your ability to do the work, the employer can’t withdraw the offer
|A possible strong negative reaction from the employer
|In this situation, if your disability is invisible, you may choose not to disclose it at all
If a student chooses to disclose their disability to their employer, they can follow these steps when disclosing (NEADS, 2021):
- State that you have a disability and require a change or accommodation
- Share how the disability or symptoms are impacting your work using everyday language
- Discuss possible consequences if the issue is not addressed
- Discuss an accommodation and provide realistic suggestions
An invisible disability is a disability that is not noticeable or apparent to others. Invisible disabilities can include brain injuries, chronic pain, mental illness, diabetes, hearing impairments, gastrointestinal disorders, and many more. All of these conditions can disrupt everyday activities, but they are not obvious to others. Invisible disabilities may be overlooked and misunderstood.