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When and How to Talk About Your Disability

Deciding if, and when, to tell your employer about your disability—which is called disclosure—is not always easy. What’s right for one person may not be right for another, and what works once may not work the next time.

It’s up to you to choose when and how you will talk about your disability, and just how much you want to disclose. There’s lots to think about as you make your decision.

To disclose or not to disclose

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Is your disability visible or invisible?
  • How do most people react when they learn about your disability? How do you deal with their reactions?
  • When do you feel most comfortable talking about your disability?
  • If you don’t disclose, will you risk your safety or the safety of others?
  • How will you feel, and what will you say, if your employer feels you haven’t been honest?
  • What are the job requirements? Will the employer need to know about your disability for you to do your best on the job?
  • What will you say so your employer feels sure your disability won’t affect your work?
  • How will you deal with wrong or hurtful assumptions about your disability?
  • Has this employer hired people with disabilities before? Does the employer have policies regarding people with disabilities?
  • Will the people who give you a reference talk about your disability with the employer?

There are rules about what employers can ask about your disability, and any changes they must make in a job so that you can do the work. This is called the duty to accommodate.

As long as you do not need any accommodations and your disability does not put anyone’s safety at risk, you don’t have to tell your employer.

When you disclose: What works and what you risk

If you decide you want to tell an employer about your disability, the next decision is when to tell them. There are lots of options, and it’s a good idea to spend time thinking about the pros and cons of each to help decide what’s right for you:

1. On your job application, resumé, or cover letter. This is a good choice if the employer has an equity program. Talk about what you can do, and what you do well.

What works:

  • This option shows that you’re open about your disability.
  • The employer may be looking to hire diverse people.
  • You might feel more comfortable writing about your disability than talking about it later when you first meet the employer.

What you risk:

  • There’s not much space to talk about your disability.
  • You can’t answer the employer’s questions.
  • This could be used to screen you out.

2. Another person recommends you. This is a good choice if that person supports you. Call the employer after you’re recommended to talk about the job.

What works:

  • The employer will probably trust the person recommending you if they know each other.
  • The employer is aware of your disability.

What you risk:

  • You can’t control what is said about you.
  • This information could be used to screen you out, which means you won’t get an interview.

3. Disclose before your interview. Choose this option if you need accommodations—changes made at the workplace.

What works:

  • This option gives the employer time to think about your disability at work and help with supports you might need during the interview.
  • It allows you to talk about your disability.
  • You know the employer is interested in you and believes you’re a good candidate for the job.
  • You may feel more relaxed going into your interview.

What you risk:

  • The employer may not think of you as someone who will be good at the job.

4. When you meet the employer. Do this if you know you can keep the employer’s attention on what you can do.

What works:

  • The employer won’t have time before to think about why you may not be right for the job.

What you risk:

  • You may not feel good about how the employer reacts.
  • It may be hard to talk about your disability with someone you’ve never met.

5. During your interview. This is a good choice if your disability is invisible, or if you need accommodations at work. Again, talk about what you can do.

What works:

  • You can answer questions and discuss why you will be a good employee.

What you risk:

  • The time you spend talking about your disability could instead be spend talking about what you can do.
  • You may not feel good about how they react.

6. After you get the job. In this case, if your disability is invisible, you may choose not to disclose.

What works:

  • If you can do the job, your employer can’t change their mind when they learn about your disability.

What you risk:

  • The employer may be unhappy they didn’t know about your disability when you were hired.

You’ve decided when to disclose, now how should you do it?

Don’t feel surprised if it’s hard to decide how to tell your employer about your disability. It can be helpful to talk over your options and your decisions with someone you trust. Here are some tips to consider:

  • If you have disclosed your disability in the past and it has not gone well, or if you’re not sure how to do it, practise what you’ll say with your family or friends.
  • Try writing out what you want to say, before you tell people.
  • Think about what questions the employer might ask you about your disability, and how you’ll answer them.
  • Stay positive and talk about your skills. Keep it brief, clear, and focused on what you can
  • Be ready to talk about anything the employer might worry about, such as a gap in your resumé or how you will do a task at work.
  • Know what accommodations you will need, how much they will cost, and if there are programs that might help pay for them.
  • Employers don’t always ask the right questions for you. Find ways to talk about why you are the best person for the job.

Here is a final question you can ask yourself: If I disclose my disability now and in this way, will it help me reach my goals?

Your final decisions

There are many things to think about as you make these decisions. If you are not sure what to do, write down the pros and cons. Remember that it is your choice to make and that it’s OK to wait until you’re ready.

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