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Disclosure of Disability in the Workplace

Disclosure of disability in the workplace is the process in which workers reveal their disabilities to employers. Disclosure of disability can be daunting for workers and the people they disclose to.

In this article, we explore:

  • Why workers might choose or not choose to disclose
  • How they might do so
  • What employers’ responsibilities are after disclosure of disability
  • How employers can create a work environment encouraging disclosure of disability

Disclosure of Disability in the Workplace

When Disclosure can Happen and How to Respond

Candidates may disclose to a hiring committee before an interview, to an interviewer, or when they have been hired.  Existing employees may disclose to human resources personnel, union representatives, or supervisors, depending on workplace size and structure. Workers may also disclose to trusted co-workers.

People a worker discloses to cannot ask for a medical diagnosis. Instead, they should ask what tasks a worker will do differently and what accommodations can help the worker accomplish those tasks. Employers are required to provide accommodations unless the expense will create undue hardship for the business. Co-workers must keep information about workers’ accommodation needs confidential. Their needs should be disclosed on a need-to-know basis, such as when coworkers volunteer to be part of a worker’s personalized emergency response plan.

Disclosure Before the Interview

People applying for jobs can choose to disclose on application materials like résumés or cover letters. Some applicants may do so if they have found a job posting through an employment agency that matches companies to candidates with disabilities. Some applicants disclose before the interview because they require accommodations for it, such as a wheelchair-accessible venue or an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter.

Many other applicants, however, prefer not to disclose at this stage. Many fear that hiring committees will focus on their disability rather than their qualifications. Other applicants dread stigma or discrimination. They realize that many employers do not have experience working with people who have disabilities. They feel that employers might believe that a person with a disability could not perform job tasks or that accommodations would be difficult to implement. Employers can help applicants feel more at ease about disclosing if they:

  • Post job advertisements in accessible formats
  • Include statements that they will welcome applications from people with disabilities
  • Explain which job tasks are essential

Disclosure At or After the Interview

Some candidates will disclose at the interview by entering the room with an assistive device, such as:

  • A white cane
  • Alternative communication device
  • Walker

People with less visible disabilities, such as:

  • Heart conditions
  • Learning disabilities
  • Intellectual disabilities
  • Mental health challenges

may disclose if they feel that certain accommodations would improve their ability to perform job tasks.

Others may choose to disclose their disability after they are hired. These individuals know that they can prove themselves on the job if given the chance.  However, they may fear that the interviewer may not know enough about disability to realize that their need to do a job differently does not reduce their capability.

People who disclose at the interview stage may offer the interviewer information about their disabilities. However, interviewers should not ask a candidate about a disability. They should only ask if the question relates to how the candidate plans to perform a specific aspect of the job.

Candidates may draw the interviewer’s attention to other aspects of their life experiences that have more relevance to the job, such as previous work or educational background. Others may show how they use skills or technology in their daily lives that will also benefit them on the job. They may also make suggestions about other accommodations that they could use for work. For instance,  they may mention funding or organizations that can help the employer implement these accommodations. Candidates may point out valuable traits or transferable skills that living with a disability has helped them to develop, such as:

  • Persistence
  • Problem-solving
  • The ability to think outside the box

Employers can express their willingness to accommodate by asking whether workers need any accommodations:

  • During the interview
  • Once workers are hired
  • If existing workers seem to experience new difficulties with tasks

Disclosure for Existing Workers

Workers may develop a disability while they are employed. They may choose to disclose their disability because they realize that they will need accommodations to continue performing job functions. Other workers may disclose pre-existing disabilities that have become more profound or may disclose if they have been assigned new job responsibilities. Workers may know what accommodations will be most helpful for them. However, they may not know that accommodations are possible because they do not have experience with disability. Disability-specific organizations can provide workers and employers with helpful information and recommend possible accommodations.

Employers can create a supportive atmosphere that encourages disclosure of disability by respecting the diversity of all workers and spreading awareness through their companies that they will happily accommodate.