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What to Say About Your Disability and When to Say It

For persons with disabilities, finding and keeping work is usually no different than for those without disabilities. However, there may be additional things to consider, such as disclosure—if, when, and how to tell people about your disability.

Disclosure is up to you

Disclosure is an important and complex decision that is entirely yours to make. What’s right for one person may not be right for another, and what works in one situation may not be successful in another.

Whether or not you mention your disability in your cover letter or resumé, during the interview or at the time of the job offer depends on you and the situation. If you’re dealing with a service provider or agency that works specifically with persons with disabilities, you will still have some say in how much is disclosed. Disclosure is entirely your choice.

To disclose or not to disclose

Before deciding if, when and how to disclose your disability, think about the following questions:

  • Is your disability visible?
  • How do most people react when they learn about your disability? How do you deal with their reactions?
  • When do you feel most comfortable and confident disclosing your disability?
  • Does not disclosing put your safety or the safety of others at risk?
  • Will the employer think you’re dishonest? How would you deal with that reaction?
  • What misconceptions might the employer have about your disability?
  • If you disclose, will you be able to reassure your employer that your disability will not affect your ability to do the work?
  • Asking for accommodations will almost certainly require you to disclose. Do you need accommodations for the interview? Or if you get the job?
  • What do you know about this employer's policies and experiences regarding people with disabilities?

Options for Disclosure: Advantages and Disadvantages

Consider these options to help you decide if and when to disclose:

1. Third party referral

  • Advantages: recommended by someone the employer knows; employer is aware of your situation
  • Disadvantages: little control over what is said about you; you could be screened out
  • Recommendations: good option if the person recommending you is supportive; follow up with a call to the employer

2. Application, resumé or cover letter

  • Advantages: demonstrates openness; employer may be recruiting for diversity
  • Disadvantages: could be used to screen you out; limited space to describe abilities, accommodations; can’t address employer’s concerns
  • Recommendations: use if employer has equity program; focus on your skills and abilities

3. When interview is scheduled

  • Advantages: employer is interested; allows employer to prepare; provides opportunity to discuss your disability
  • Disadvantages: employer may react negatively; you may not receive serious consideration
  • Recommendations: if you require accommodations for the interview, disclose at this time; call employer to disclose if someone else booked the interview

4. After interview is scheduled

  • Advantages:  employer is interested; allows employer to prepare; provides opportunity to discuss your disability
  • Disadvantages: employer may react negatively; you may not receive serious consideration
  • Recommendations: if you require accommodations for the interview, disclose at this time; call employer to disclose if someone else booked the interview; gives time to prepare

5. When you meet employer

  • Advantages: reduces risk of employer forming preconceived opinions
  • Disadvantages: you may react negatively to their surprise
  • Recommendations: use this method if you are confident you can keep the employer focused on your abilities

6. During the interview

  • Advantages: you can reassure employer; you can answer questions
  • Disadvantages: you may react negatively to their surprise
  • Recommendations: if your disability is not visible, use this option and focus on your abilities

7. After Receiving the Job

  • Advantages: if your disability won’t adversely affect your ability to do the work, employer can’t withdraw offer
  • Disadvantages: possible strong negative reaction from employer
  • Recommendations: in this situation, if your disability is invisible, you may choose not to disclose at all

Tips for disclosing

  • If you’ve had little success in disclosure situations or feel uncomfortable, try role playing 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 express, even if they’re not expressed directly.
  • Know what workplace accommodations you may need, including their availability and cost, and the funding programs the employer can access.
  • Anticipate the employer's questions about your disclosure and know how you’ll answer them. Use examples.

Reaching a decision about disclosure

Telling employers about your disability may be the biggest uncertainty in your work search. How, when and whether or not you disclose is entirely up to you. Once you’ve reached a decision about disclosure, ask yourself 1 last question: will disclosing my disability at this time and in this way help me reach my goal of getting work?

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