By Paula Morgan
The issue of disclosing a disability to a potential employer is very complex and nuanced. You want to be honest and open, but there’s the constant worry about potential bias. As with all types of discrimination, there is an unfortunate gap between what the law requires and what people actually think and do.
Underlying stereotypes and misconceptions run rampant. Some employers worry that people with disabilities will be less productive and more costly; even though the fact of the matter is that these workers are a dedicated, motivated pool of untapped talent. This may be why the unemployment rate for people with disabilities is historically much higher than the national average unemployment rate for workers without disabilities.
Additionally, sometimes employers feel that hiring an individual with a disability will require them to do “extra,” something they simply do not want to deal with – even if they should. People have been denied handicapped parking spaces, standing desks and flexible work arrangements. I also have worked with individuals who feel as if supervisors or managers make them feel broken or damaged, simply for having a disability.
All of the stories are terrible and many exhibit illegal behavior. So there are many things to consider when, and if, you decide to disclose.
One option is to let the employer know before you even meet them by checking a self-disclosure box on the job application. Employers are not allowed to directly ask about your disability, so the pro here is that this is an opportunity for you to let them know your situation right out of the gate and request the reasonable accommodations you need to best perform your job. (Note: In a future article, I’ll discuss the strategy of not disclosing until receiving a job offer.)
When discussing any accommodation you may need, keep this in mind: The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) forbids employers from discrimination against people with disabilities and demands they provide reasonable accommodations when necessary. For an accommodation to be considered “reasonable,” it must not cause undue hardship to the business, but note that most accommodations are free or inexpensive.
Another thing to keep in mind is that if your accommodation request is met with pushback, or it’s taking weeks to implement due to the employer dragging their feet, stand strong. Continue to be your own advocate, and continue to stand up for what you need to do the best possible job you can.
If you have an “invisible” disability, there are actually some pros to not disclosing, particularly if you do not require any accommodations. Your condition won’t be readily seen, and not disclosing can protect you from water cooler chatter that could become toxic. (Despite great strides being made in the 30 years since the ADA was passed, some members of our society still see people with disabilities as those who are less functional or – best case – a “hero” for overcoming their disabilities in comparison to others with similar conditions.)
Finally, if you choose to reveal your disability during the job interview itself, be sure to do so with tact and caution. A benefit of doing this is that by raising an uncomfortable issue, you’re showing you know how to take charge of a situation and handle what might be an awkward conversation.
Originally posted on Forbes