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To Tell Or Not to Tell: When to Disclose Your Disability

Editor's Note: The following article is reprinted from eyes2eyes.com and is dated April 27, 2003.

The decision to disclose your disability and when to do so may be the single most important consideration in your job search. This is a personal decision that has to be made for each job lead you pursue and will be based on the nature of your disability and your knowledge of the prospective employer. When reviewing this issue, ask yourself this question: If I disclose my disability, will I be hired? If the answer is no, then don't do it.

If you feel the employer will hire you and make a fair and reasonable accommodation, then you may wish to consider how and when to inform the employer of your disability. Even though the law states you do not have to reveal your disability to a prospective employer unless it relates to the completion of essential job functions, you may want to be open on this subject. If you are initially candid, you may set the stage for enhanced regard by your employer. This disclosure may be viewed as a sign of character, strength and confidence. How this delicate communication is made can be crucial to your obtaining the job.

Options:

At Referral

If you are one of the lucky job seekers to get a foot in the employment door through a referral, you don't have to worry about disclosing your disability. The employer probably knows about your specific limitation. It is likely the individual who made the referral has bridged that gap before your interview. This is ideal because during the interview both you and the employer will likely be more comfortable.

But most people with disabilities do not have this advantage. The imposing question of when and how to tell employers can be very distressing. In a fair and reasonable world, you would be able to disclose your disability openly in your resume, cover letter and during the interview. However, we all know there is discrimination in the job market. Employers have biases and prejudices they might not even be aware of. These may be carried into the job screening process.

On Your Resume

Often your disability is reflected in your work history, education and life experience. Rather than trying to hide your disability, phrase it with proactive words. Emphasize your adaptability, flexibility and talents in the light of your disability. Use words that showcase your abilities. Keep in mind that you may lose a few job opportunities or offers if you run into the inevitable employers who are biased. But those employers are unlikely to be fair after you are hired anyway.

If you decide to disclose your disability in your resume, do not place it in the opening paragraph. Weave the information into your resume in a subtle manner.

In Your Cover Letter

Sometimes it is to your advantage to discuss your disability openly in a cover letter. For example, some employers specifically recruit the disabled to meet affirmative action goals or because they have a state or federal contract that requires hiring disabled.

Once again, as in the resume, do not start the cover letter with details about your disability. Follow the standard format for cover letters (see Cover Letters that Sell) and at the end of the second paragraph, describe your strengths and your limitations. Then continue describing how you will perform the essential functions of the job.

On the Application Form

Standard employment applications may be required. Some organizations require all job hunters to complete a standardized form. Most of the forms have a section for disability disclosure but this is not mandatory. You do not have to disclose your disability. You have the option but are not required by law to discuss any aspect of your limitation.

The major drawback of disclosing at this point in the process is that you may not have room on the form to describe accommodations or how you overcome your limitations. This could be a disadvantage. Large corporations often have a standardized disclosure form that can be completed with the general application. This is also optional for you. Think through the advantages of disclosing at this time and what you know about the particular corporation. Some corporations or employers are very supportive of disabled employees and this would be an appropriate time to disclose.

During the Interview

Shock is a common reaction if a visibly disabled person walks into an interview session and hasn't adequately prepared the prospective employer. This shock factor can lead to mistrust and nervousness on the part of the interviewer. If your disability is highly visible (for example, being wheelchair bound, blind, walking with a cane), you may wish to prepare the employer beforehand.

A wise time to inform the interviewer of a visible disability could be the time when the interviewer personally calls to set up an appointment. Do not disclose to a secretary or office assistant and hope the message is diplomatically relayed.

If, however, your disability is not overtly visible (for example, a learning disability or wearing a hearing aid), you do not have to prepare the interviewer.

After you've Been Offered the Job

Many people prefer to disclose after they have been offered the job on their talents, skills and educational background. This may be temporarily distressful to the prospective employer but by that time you are hired and ready to begin work. You have passed the competition. If your disclosure changes the hiring decision and the employer retracts the offer, you are eligible to take legal action. The ADA does not allow this kind of discrimination. The only drawback to waiting is the employer may be unhappy about not knowing ahead of time and trust may be hampered.

After Beginning the Job

This strategy lets you shine on the job before having to disclose a limitation. If your impairment or limitation does not impact the initial work, this may be a solid choice. This option gives you time to make friends with co-workers, staff and supervisors to strengthen your employment position.

Never

If you believe your disability will not impact the essential functions of your job, you may not want to tell your supervisor or boss. Smart job hunters know telling the employer can have tremendous effect on the success of the job search. Keep in mind this is not the time to educate an employer. You can do that after you have worked on the job for a length of time; or you may with never to do so. It is your choice.

Final Issues

Timing is important. If you catch the employer off-guard and shock him/her, your chances of employment may be lessened. This possibility could be diminished if you ask yourself several questions to prepare yourself and your prospective employer:

  1. Am I comfortable and confident that I can do the job tasks with my disability?
  2. Can I rehearse my answers to the interview questions?
  3. If I disclose my disability at this time and in this way, will I get hired?

Let's look at these in more detail.

Are you comfortable and confident that you can do the job tasks with your disability? If you have the skills, education or background that the job requires, you may feel confident about your ability to do the job. But, are you comfortable explaining the details of your disability? Try role-playing the situation.

Have a trusted friend or family member pretend to be an interviewer with a list of questions. Then explain to the interviewer your particular disability and how the disability will affect your work. Then list the benefits of hiring you. If you are uncomfortable, try it again. With a number of rehearsals, your comfort level will go up.

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