Disclosing Disabilities

Disclosing Disabilities

To Tell or Not to Tell
by Sandy Lovejoy

When you're seriously engaged in finding a job in this competitive market and you have a disability, you have some soul-searching to do. If you have a physical disability that will be obvious as soon as you meet someone, the question is: At what point in the job-seeking process do you address the disability? If your disability is outwardly invisible, the question is: Do you tell or not?

When Your Disability Is Obvious

If you are responding to a job opening, make sure you're confident you can handle the job as you understand it, given the information you have at the point of applying. Will the ability to drive, see well, communicate without an interpreter, lift objects or help others get around be required? If you don't foresee a problem or if you know how to handle it, go for it.

There may be jobs or positions you have held in the past that prove your ability. If you know previous employers will give you positive recommendations and perhaps even note that your disability either didn't hinder you or gave you an extra leg up, you may feel confident discussing such information and even including it in your cover letters. For example, maybe you were able to work with others with similar disabilities or find ways to do the job that were helpful to other employees as well.

Some employers may pass you by, but others may be excited by your creativity and ability. Certainly bring that up in the interview as part of your strategy for selling yourself. By all means, come to the interview prepared to discuss how your particular disability will be an asset to the job or at least not a major handicap.

When You Have a Hidden Disability

This is a trickier issue. For the most part, the common wisdom is not to disclose prior to receiving a job offer. Interviewers are not allowed to ask you direct questions about whether you have a disability. That doesn't mean you might not get asked indirectly. So be ready for any possibility.

When getting ready for the interview:

  • Be prepared to talk about your disability if you are somehow asked a direct question, or if you get a hunch during the interview that it will not negatively affect your candidacy.

  • Be prepared to handle questions about gaps in your work history if you have been out of work due to illness or psychiatric hospitalization.

  • Keep it simple and short. Don't dwell on the problems, but do acknowledge them. Talk about how you imagine you will handle the job and the disability. Highlight skills and experience you have that make the disability less relevant or problematic.

  • Find a few people you trust (if you can, include at least one person who has experience hiring) to listen to your prepared answers. Take their feedback seriously.

You may not need to use this material during the interview, but you will be more confident if you feel prepared to answer any potential question.

You have difficult decisions when your disability is one that carries a stigma, such as mental illness, a developmental disability, dyslexia, ADHD, communication disorders and other “mental” disorders, HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C. People uneducated about your disability may make assumptions or have unwarranted fears. Talk to others like you for ideas and support. Check Web sites for your particular disability if disclosure is an issue for you.

Remember: You are a person with unique experiences and talents. Make sure this is firmly planted in your mind before you go to an interview, and find a way to showcase those talents at that important meeting.