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I'm involved with several groups that work with people with disabilities (having several myself).

One question that comes up for people who's disabilities are not obvious is if they should disclose this information to an employer, and if so, how should they go about this and at what point.

Since some disabilities such as dysgraphia, dyslexia, mild autism, et cetera, are not highly visible and obvious during an interview, when and if this information should be revealed has become a point of contention. How and when should this information be disclosed to an employer, and to whom?

  • @AllTheKingsHorses are there any states that require disclosure? – Retired Codger May 23 '17 at 20:10
  • @AllTheKingsHorses I have never encountered any such convention, that's why I'm asking about it. – Retired Codger May 23 '17 at 20:20
  • Do you want to know based on country/legislation, or for other reasons? – Erik May 28 '17 at 12:08
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    @Erik, other reasons. I want this to be as general as possible. – Retired Codger May 30 '17 at 1:14

10 Answers 10

18
+500

Disclosing differences during an interview is risky, since an employer might choose to illegally discriminate based on them, but the risk may be worthwhile. Disclose when:

  • you're asked a question that will reveal your inability to do something that is not a core component of the job. For example, if you can't drive. Mentioning it now with a reason will probably not cost you the job. Simply saying you don't do that thing might cost you the job.
  • it's clear from the way the interview is going that the only way you'll be comfortable working there is if they are ok with what makes you different and are happy to work with you. You can screen the employer out just as they can screen you out. Mentioning a difference, or asking if a particular accommodation is available, is a way to see if this is a place you'd be willing to work

Don't disclose during an interview when:

  • your difference is something that few people understand well, and you don't have paperwork about what accommodations you need. For example, Aspergers is something many have heard of, but may have misconceptions about. So saying in the interview "my Aspergers requires a quiet working environment; is yours quiet?" may not be as effective as simply asking "do you have a quiet working environment?" The former not only discloses, but invites arguments about the extent to which you really require it, and opinions about what might be best for you from someone unlikely to be qualified to provide them.
  • your difference is something that can't be detected in an interview and doesn't affect the core component of your job at all. Face blindness, for example, or colour blindness if you're not a photographer or visual artist. Height or mobility, if you're doing a Skype interview. Let them get to know you a bit. Mention it at work if and when it ever becomes relevant, such as when someone shows a pie chart with red and green segments you can't tell apart. Or just let them discover it in the first in-person interview without really making an issue of it.

Once you have the job, if something arises where it's clear you need an accommodation (headphone-wearing, office-furniture-changing, or whatever) try simply asking for it because you need it to work well. If that request is declined, then you can mention that it's your first guess that this is actually a needed accommodation. That may require doctor letters or whatever, so if you don't need to demand and prove things, why bother?

And finally, when all is going swimmingly at your job and you're excelling, consider mentioning invisible differences or things people have never heard of, simply to change the mindset of your coworkers. I think we've all heard Joe Blowhard saying that X people can't do this job, not like we Y people, when in fact one of us is an X person. I have heard speeches about immigrants from those who assumed I wasn't one. Friends have heard speeches about gay people or very religious people. And you will probably hear speeches about disabled people. By being "out" as your whole self, when you're in a good safe place, you raise the opinion of the general populace about whether or not disabled people can do this job. You increase the chances of someone ten years from now on a hiring panel saying "what do you mean, don't hire the X applicant? I worked with a person who had X years ago and that was one of the best developers I ever met. There's no reason X keeps you from doing this job."

  • 3
    On balance I'd prefer to be illegally discriminated against at the interview stage, rather than get hired but then find out that they have an issue with my disability. – user Mar 27 '18 at 14:01
  • Colourblindness is an issue for a LOT more than just photographers or visual artists (for instance, it disqualifies one for essentially any job that requires driving, because traffic lights and whatnot). – Sean Jul 19 at 3:02
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    @Sean Colorblindness does not stop one from driving. – Jonast92 Jul 23 at 11:30
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    @Jonast92 Ya. Knowing up from down helps with traffic lights. Red / green not so much. 😂 – Peter K. Jul 23 at 11:47
  • @PeterK.: And in places where the traffic lights aren't mounted vertically? – Sean Jul 24 at 4:37
13

If the disability impacts your performance or impacts your productivity. Example: I have an auditory disorder, which is facilitated by the use of headphones. I obtained a doctor's notice and handed it to my manager when he talked to me about my headphones. If it's not apparent, then why drag it out in the first place? The things you mentioned seem to inhibit some functionality on the job (unable to read letters/numbers correctly for issues of communication, etc) and should be disclosed as soon as possible, either during the interview or during contract negotiations. I'd say it would be more appropriate to disclose during an interview as they know what they're getting.

To preempt any arguments about discrimination: If an employer says "I didn't hire you because you have affliction X" they are committing a crime, however if a disability impinges on the ability to do a job (missing an arm for a forklift driver, missing a leg for a race-runner) then they CAN use that as reasonable criteria. In this case, it only applies in certain circumstances (such as being able to read numbers quickly in the stock exchange or read/write quickly as a court stenographer) because it is not an "obvious" disability. Mental disability can keep you from jobs as well: a bipolar person could be disqualified for a job that engages other unstable individuals (such as prison work or as a psychiatric orderly).

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    "I didn't hire you because you have affliction X": Some will still do this subconsciously or otherwise, in that case do you even want to work for them anyway? – TheLethalCompany May 31 '17 at 8:47
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    Agree wholeheartedly that a disability should be disclosed as soon as possible but I would take it one step further. I would recommend disclosing it in such a way that turns that disability into a strength. An individual with a disability has a unique advantage in an interview: personal evidence of strength and resilience of character. A disability shouldn't be a topic of shame but rather offered as evidence of fortitude. Talk about how overcoming the disability has made you a stronger person and better worker. Any hiring manager worth his salt should recognize value in that statement. – DanK May 31 '17 at 17:52
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    @TheLethalCoder Nope. Then again, I'm not sensitive to being rejected for a job for any reason, legal or valid. They don't want me, that's their loss. ;-) – SliderBlackrose Jun 2 '17 at 12:37
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    @TheLethalCompany There is the interviewer, and there's the rest of the company. They can be quite different. And there will be the dilemma: "I'd rather have someone who isn't xxx. But I understand that he needs a job and it would be unfair to treat him badly because he is xxx". – gnasher729 Jul 23 at 12:58
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If you are job hunting, I would not disclose any disabilities until after you have a written job offer in hand. Before this, you open yourself up to discrimination, even unconscious discrimination. In the US, the disability disclosures on an employment application are different. If those are used properly, the hiring manager never sees those answers. Application disclosures should only be used for reporting aggregated statistics to government agencies.

If you are already on a job, it really depends on the type of disability, unfortunately. Bluntly, if it is illness-related or a physical limitation, disclose away. In the US, the law is clear that employers must make a good faith effort to accommodate your needs, unless the accommodation will cause an undue burden on the employer. They can ask for medical documentation from you, and they should take into account the recommendations of your medical team.

However, if you have ADHD, Austism Spectrum Disorder, Dyslexia, or similar disabilities, there is a distinct danger of this disclosure negatively affecting perceptions of your skills and professionalism. There is a significant difference in how these disabilities are treated in an academic setting versus in a professional setting.

The types of accommodation frequently provided in academic settings are often not available or appropriate in the workplace. Asking for more time to complete work tasks because you have ADHD is not going to go over well, for example. On the other hand, asking to be moved to a quieter cube or to use headphones is a very appropriate accommodation.

In my experience, with the more cognitive/mental health disabilities, disclose as little as possible. I prefer to avoid naming my diagnoses unless it becomes truly relevant. I do often request specific accommodations with the specifics on how they will help me to be more productive. For example, instead of saying "I have ADHD and I can't focus when people are talking around me," I say "I've found that people talking around me are highly distracting, but using headphones really helps me to focus and be more productive."

Unfortunately, the stigma of cognitive/neurological difference/mental illness is still very strong. There are ways to get the accommodation you need while minimizing the negative impact on your career.

  • The company also doesn't want to know about it - if they have ten candidates and hire one, then with bad luck five would sue them for discrimination. – gnasher729 Jul 23 at 13:00
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Dealing with a disability on the job is all about setting correct expectations. How they are set depends on the nature of the disability and the nature of the work. A person who has a disability, but has good compensatory strategies to deal with it may not need to disclose it at all. A dyslexic applying for a job as a proof reader however should make it clear that there may be times that they cant read as quickly as coworkers. Many organizations with work with employees to make sure that they can succeed in their job. Not all mind you, but many.

3

Only when strictly necessary. You're not doing yourself any favors by disclosing.

I know it sucks, and it's by law outright illegal to discriminate for disability status, but that's the world we're living in, and more often then not, you should choose to keep it to yourself unless it's patently obvious or you need to request strictly necessary accomodation.

Shady employers will often, even though it's illegal, retaliate against anyone who requests accomodation, so doing that is always a risk. (Not everyone can afford to / wants to sue their employer. In certain industries that can be career suicide).

So in closing, unless you are very sure that your employer will be accomodating and won't harbor ill will, you should disclose any disabilities only when strictly necessary, and only to the extent strictly necessary. It's sad that it has to be that way, but unless you want to risk being on the wrong end of an retaliating employer, don't.

2

This will depend on the particulars of the barriers, but a good rule of thumb is disclose for a purpose; typically, this will be for the purpose of securing adjustments.

When you have identified a barrier which affects you on account of your impairment or some other similar situation where you will want your employer to make adjustments, then:

  • Who: Find the person best placed to make the change. If your manager has asked you to write a report for a customer, talk to them and say "I can do that - but can you suggest someone who might be willing to check the spelling". If multiple people need to be involved, consider identifying a person who will help ensure cooperation (this will often be your manager) - discuss who is best placed to communicate what information to whom.
  • When: Disclose in plenty of time for your employer to make arrangements, once you know it's likely to be a problem. If you need assistive technology from day 1, ask once you've agreed the offer. If you need level access at interview, ask for level access once you're invited to interview (or if there is a space for this on the application form, use this).
  • What: Give your employer the specific information they need so they can focus on fixing any accessibility issues ("I have difficulty hearing in large meetings - can we please book the room with the hearing loop?"). If you're comfortable sharing more, do this only if you have reason to believe it would help and won't cause them to worry.
  • How: Depends on your relationship with the other party; often you only have one or two appropriate methods. If it's once you're hired, look for opportunities to have a quick chat in a private room or out-of-the-way part of the workplace so the other party has the opportunity to ask clarifying questions, and follow up by email (hopefully thanking them for agreeing). In situations where you don't have a strong or trusting relationship with the person you're approaching, email is typically better.

In addition, keep track of who has been informed about these adjustments and consider checking that they're still understood and operational following personnel changes.

Disclosing excessive information, or to too many people, or unprompted at a time when you're not expecting anything to happen as a result is likely to invite unwelcome questions, discussion, or worry. Sadly, conscious and unconscious discrimination is still widespread (including among disabled people and in workplaces where disabled people are among the major 'customers').

Larger employers (in the UK at least) typically ask you during recruitment to fill in a questionnaire which an Occupational Health provider retains. If you are offered the job, they will look for any potential issues and discuss them. OH should then agree with you what information they will pass on to the employer. Any information they don't pass on, you don't need to share either. Not everywhere has this setup and in some places this setup the provider may take a negative outlook.

In any case, you should always answer questions honestly and factually, but if you feel uncomfortable, respond with your own questions to satisfy yourself that the information is being collected by the right person for a legitimate purpose. If this is a concern, find ways you're comfortable with for steering the conversation elsewhere, ideally by being reassuring. It's ok to say "I don't think that's relevant" or "That's not something you need to worry about".

In many jurisdictions, you will have a statutory right for the employer to make the workplace as accessible to you as they make it for everyone else wherever feasible, and statutory protections for making requests, (although this does not guarantee that your employer will respect the law, or that your case will succeed if they break it). In others you may need to ask specific questions as your treatment will be more variable.

Sometimes it may be beneficial to disclose for other purposes, for example:

  • In the case of a visible (or otherwise obvious) impairment to clear misconceptions (some disabled people will mention fairly early on in a conversation with someone they've not met "By the way I'm not drunk, it's just...").
  • If you have concerns that a job may involve work or working conditions that are genuinely not suitable for you and it is possible that there is no reasonable way for an employer to make sufficient adjustments, it may be advisable to check before accepting an offer. It is safest to do so once you have an offer.

It's a good idea to consistently take note of who you've disclosed information to, when, why, etc. This will help you if you find you're suddenly being treated differently.

2

Varying answers here, but I think it important to distinguish something very clearly when you approach this subject.

1) You are hired to perform a specific service to an employer, the only factors that should matter is your ability to perform this on behalf of the employer. Separate the human factor and analyze your worth and potential on that basis alone and if the disability inhibits your ability to perform only disclose it in the context as above mentioned.

Examples:

  • Dyslexia - triple reading, specific dyslexia proof-reading, and spell check which helps with words. Programming you have to run the program for it to work and it highlights things and won't work if it's not correct. So the disclosure should be limited to the specific communication situation where it may not be preventable which as a programmer shouldn't be an issue except occasionally in reviews/presentations and in time estimations due to double/triple checking since you know it's an issue to start with. If you do it in the timebox estimated then there isn't any need to mention it.

  • Real Life Experience where disclosure should have happened: Medication and psychological issues with a fellow employee. Due to privacy rights no questions could be asked and person refused to indicate any issue was there. The main problem with this was that often said person's work not only wasn't fully completed, but had to be re-done. The psychological issues as well as medication caused erratic behavior which also led to security monitoring as others felt threatened by the unstable behavior being put off by this person. In this case disclosing and indicating that "I have x condition/disability, and this is how it's being treated which is working, but I am able to perform exactly x without issue and I have issues with y,z,etc..." would have made a huge difference. In this case a PIP and security monitoring were instituted by our mutual boss until the employee left...which you know there wasn't going to be a good reference there...not to mention everyone else had to make up for their work and almost rather them not even work as it all had to be redone anyway.

Question to ask yourself: Am I able to do this job as is? If you aren't able to do the job, then you need to find a job you can do.

2) Once you have the understanding of how effective you are at being able to do the job you have the ability to negotiate with the employer for special accommodation. This is a negotiation as you should be offering a benefit to the employer and not getting special pay. It sucks to be disabled, but the goal for all employment is to offer a service/skill for a salary.

  • Real life experience: I have severe PTSD which only has certain situations that cause issue. On the flip side I excel in other areas. I have proven my value in the areas that I excel in and when I am unable to consistently perform in certain area(s) I approach just my manager and those that would actually be impacted specifically by the issue. Focus is a big one, so my direct reports I let know that there are some personal issues which are distracting me so if something doesn't make sense or if I get distracted or contradict myself please let me know and be sure to get clarification. I let my manager know the situation more fully and express my willingness to take time off if that is best. Due to my knowledge base and strong work in areas that I'm not affected by this, my manager said that I get more done in less time than most and it would be worth paying me for my knowledge and work even if I only get half a days work in and are available to answer questions. My manager also indicated they would cover any meetings I may miss in the process.

Summary of steps:

  1. Thorough analysis of your capabilities
  2. Solid demonstration of your capabilities (sometimes you don't have this chance before disclosure, but this always helps)
  3. Scope exact impact of disability on each peer(s)/manager(s)/direct reports
  4. Plan to disclose and express exactly what meets each party where they will be affected by the disability and leave anything else un-disclosed.
    Note: It is critical to solve the issue of your disability for the people you disclose to and let them know the solution even if you have to ask for help in implementing the solution. This shows you take full responsibility for yourself and your disability and you are only requesting an accommodation to benefit not only yourself, but the company and team as well.
  • I have a good bit of real life situations that I, peers, managers, and direct report have had, so if you prefer a different issue than the ones I chose I can update with a different real life situation to better meet disability intent...although the approach is the same. – mutt May 31 '17 at 2:08
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I don't think any disclosure is necessary and should only be considered under certain circumstances.

  1. There is a definite or significant limitation to performing the tasks of the job. The company may be able to live with it or find other things for the person to do while someone else takes on this task. If there's a once-a-year convention that requires carrying heavy boxes, that can be worked out.
  2. There are limited or slight limitations to performing certain tasks, but there are work-arounds and solutions that may require a little understanding from the company. A migraine sufferer may have to come in later until the medication starts to work.
  3. If there is any impact on non-essential but possibly considered part of being able to fit in with the team, you may want to disclose things you are comfortable with. Some people are on medication and can't drink alcohol. Do you want to disclose that before you're asked to go out with the team for a round or do you prefer to decline with no explanation?

Unfortunately, there are many industries where corporate cultures and politics can be counter-productive and difficult for many to fit in. I prefer to build a culture around getting stuff done. Everything else is secondary.

1

I would certainly add this information while applying for a job:
In Belgium there is a company which trains people with mild autism to work as software testers (due to their ability to stay focused, even on boring and repetitif tasks, mild autist people are very well suited for testing software), so I would definitively mention any "disability" to the employer as this is a very good example of a disability becoming a strenght, as mentioned before by DanK.

Moreover in some countries, employers get subsidiaries for hiring people with disabilities, so for the employer it might even be a financial advantage.

  • In the USA, the loser of a lawsuit is not required to pay legal costs, so there is actually an incentive to sue for little or no reason. Because of this, I've found that in the USA, many employers are cautious about hiring people with disabilities, due to the American's with Disabilities Act. This may be a special consideration in the USA that is not so in the rest of the world. – Retired Codger Jun 1 '17 at 12:37
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I suggest looking at it from the perspective of what is best for you.

If failure by the company to make accommodations for your disability could end up being bad for you, it's probably best to disclose it before accepting the job. Maybe after interviewing and being offered the position, if you don't feel it will have a significant impact on your work when accommodated.

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