You apply for a job. You have all the skills and experience required for it. Maybe you have a gap in your resume because you needed treatment of some sort for your disability but you are ready to get back to it.

You see that little box on the application- Do you have a disability? Or maybe they ask you at the interview: Do you have a disability you need accommodation for? So… do you?

Every disabled person has a unique talent. But for many, a single question unites them: Even knowing my talent, should I check the disability box? The answer tends to fall along generational lines. For older generations, acknowledging any disability is completely unnecessary. It could do more harm than good, most Generation X and Boomers say. Millennials tend to be more open about talking about their mental health. The younger you are, the less stigma there tends to be. Hopefully. Let’s face it— your next boss isn’t likely to be 22, with innate coaching skills and a certification in Mental Health First Aid.

Forbes
Should I inform an employer I have a disability?

So should you hide your disability, if you can. Or not?

Personally, I did a little of both. I never disclosed fibromyalgia because I was so aware of the inherent stigma associated with it. There was so much stigma I was used to from when I was younger I just felt it was unnecessary to risk it. At the time, I also felt no accommodation would be needed for a desk job with it. I would think of some Later that I would never get but initially I was too young to know what I needed.

However, my migraine disease was a tad different. I knew it would interfere with my capacity to function at times. Hell, I knew I would have to push through the pain all the time and it would be extremely difficult (not how difficult or the toll it would have). So I say I had chronic migraine disease.

Many experts suggest disclosing before a job offer in order to communicate self-confidence and refocus the employer’s attention on your ability to do the job. Some people with non-visible disabilities may choose not to disclose their disability at all.

DiverseAbility

In an ideal world maybe those experts are right. Maybe it does show self-confidence. Also it might show exactly what accommodations we need to thrive and focus on our talents, skills and abilities. Or it might be something that discourages an employer from hiring us among all the other applicants.

Where I live currently in the job market you can expect hundreds of people to be applying for the same job. When my spouse was looking some resumes he submitted were not even looked at because there were well over 300 applicants in one day- so the employer had looked at some, set up interviews based on the ones they looked at and that was that. You had to get Lucky to be in that first bit they Look at first. And then catch their Attention. And then get through the interview. At that point, if you had an invisible disability that may in some way discourage an employer to choose you over all the others, when you have all the skills necessary… would you mention it then?

Even though discriminating on the basis of disability is illegal, the truth is that some hiring managers will quietly reject a resume on that basis, thinking that with so many other qualified candidates, why should they take on what they consider a complication?

NYpost

Because it isn’t discrimination, is it? Not Quite. Not when they have several qualified applicants and you happen to have a disability. And, well, that does just complicate things for them and the company… so… naw.

That being said, when I was working I was told by my boss I would likely be the first to be laid off ‘due to the economy’ because of my disability. It was a veiled threat at the time that I was simply not as useful as everyone else, not of as much worth, and would be discarded easily with any excuse. So know that, I could easily see how a potential employer would just… not choose a disabled applicant because they are just ‘complicated’.

According to Forbes:

  • For a recruiter, disabled candidates offer a company the opportunity to be inclusive and find untapped talent.
  • In HR, the conversation will likely focus on compliance standards and culture fit.
  • Among the top leadership minds are opening. “We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to place informed bets which will change things like how work gets done, how constituents are served, how health services are delivered and how the talent experience is improved,” says Sean Morris, who’s COO of government and public services at Deloitte. Morris’ bird’s eye view plays out very differently on the ground. 

I am not sure about that. What I do think is that we should consider who we work for as much as they interview us. I do know we have no legal obligation to disclose a disability. However, it can open us up to very valuable accommodations. But, you do not have to disclose during the interview process at all and can do it later if you so desire. There is no specific rule to say when you should.

If you do disclose during the interview process:

  1. Be clear about your abilities and skills
  2. Be specific about accommodations and how they help your job performance and perform specific functions
  3. Be open and direct about your disability. And tell them you welcome any questions they have on how you do your work and the accommodations you use

I will also consider the company

  • How does it treat its employees?
  • Is it known for its diversity?
  • What does it think about work/life balance?
  • Does it have a high turn over rate? Tends to mean people are jumping ship as fast as they can because it is a toxic work environment.

I wouldn’t disclose on an application, my resume or the first interview. Personally.

I would not disclose your disability on your resume. Lead with your qualifications to get an invite for an interview. If your disability doesn’t require an accommodation for the job you are applying for, or isn’t obvious, I wouldn’t volunteer any information about your disability in the first interview, either. Use that meeting the same way everyone else does — to assess the company and job and to focus on your qualifications for the role and why you would be a great hire.

NYpost

It just doesn’t give then the option of weeding you out simply because of a ‘complication’ they perceive.

See: ‘The interviewer went on to ghost me’: disabled people hit employment hurdles

When you get that second interview, that is when I would disclose, especially if I know I will need accommodation. This is when I did disclose even though the company I worked for never did offer any sort of accommodation for what they perceived to not be a disability (pain).

If you are invited for a second interview, consider then being open about any accommodation you might need to perform the essential job functions at that time. You are not legally obliged to, and you could wait until you receive a job offer, but I don’t think that’s the best way to start a relationship.

NYpost

We are aware invisible disabilities can affect getting a job as well as moving up in a company

If we have not personally experienced difficulty getting a job because we disclosed our disability or problems with upward mobility in a company from it, and I have, then we very likely know someone who Has. “workers with invisible disabilities face unique challenges compared to those with visible ones when it comes to disclosure, according to a paper published in the Journal of Industrial and Organizational Psychology.” (The muse)

Knowing it can affect a whole lot it makes it really hard to know if we should disclose it or how much we should disclose.

Understandably, Willard Virant says, employees with invisible disabilities are confused about when—or if—they should disclose their illness at work. They’re scared to tell their bosses and co-workers about their conditions for fear of being outcast at best and fired at worst. “There are feelings of shame, embarrassment, vulnerability, paranoia. Disclosing your illness can make you feel isolated and less valuable.”

The Muse

And remember if we do we can face discrimination. And stigma. And a very hostile work environment that has no desire to accommodate you in any way.

So first, decide if you want to disclose your disability. And if you do, choose when you want to.

Others hold off disclosing for as long as possible. “I want to be considered for promotions,” says Mandy C., who works for her state government. “I know that legally they can’t hold your illness against you, but I live in the real world, and they hold it against you. So the longer they are in the dark, the better.”

Most employees wait until they’ve been on the job for a while and “try to get relationships going with their co-workers and supervisors and have that goodwill in place” before they disclose, Center adds. But if you’re having trouble performing certain functions and people are noticing—maybe you’re even getting written up—“we advise you to disclose so at least there’s an attempt to accommodate you before you lose your job.”

The Muse

Always know your legal rights

Like your legal right to not disclose, if you so choose. Know your rights always while working with a disability as well. Because they know the rules and they definitely know exactly how to use them to help you or hinder you depending on the company.

You cannot be fired for having an invisible illness covered under the ADA—but you have to be able to do the job you were hired to do. If you can’t, your employer is required to make “reasonable accommodations” to help you succeed in your job (see Step 5 below) or find you a lateral move within the company to a vacant job you’re qualified for, Center notes. If there’s no open role at an equivalent level, they are allowed to demote you to another open position.

The Muse

You can choose who you wish to disclose to

If you do not want to disclose to your immediate manager/boss that is your choice. You can go directly to HR if you choose.

You can open up to your co-workers or not. But if you do, you have to know that it can open you up to stigma in the workplace.

If you disclose, make it official

Leave a paper trail. Like by drafting an email.

Center recommends sending some sort of official correspondence for the record. The JAN website is an amazing resource for all things related to disclosing your disability and has sample form letters for many different kinds of disabilities that you can use as a guide. In a nutshell, JAN says, your letter should:

The Muse
  • Identify yourself as a person with a disability
  • Say that you’re requesting accommodations under the ADA (if you’re a federal employee, you’ll want to cite the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 instead)
  • Describe the specific job tasks that are problematic
  • Describe your ideas for accommodations
  • Ask for your employer’s input on accommodation options
  • Attached medical documentation if relevant
  • Ask for a timely response to your request

Ask for reasonable accommodations that will help you succeed at work

  • a lateral move,
  • a standing desk,
  • an ergonomic chair or desk,
  • schedule modifications,
  • time off for treatments or other appointments,
  • work from home days
  • Or others

I met with my boss after my long term leave. I had come back and I just could not function with the pain. Same story, same outcome. So we had a chat. They offered me a demotion to a new role which I accepted because I could not function full time. And the were unwilling to offer me modified hours at the role I had as other people had. I knew I could not work full time. My doctors knew it. My psychologist knew it. It was what it was. I also did schedule modification so that I would work, have a day of, work, day off and so forth in order to not compound my pain. Due to my problems sleeping with pain, I also asked for more afternoon shifts. And they had no problem with this. For years I had no accommodation and a bad work environment but at that new location that is what was offered and at least that was something. Maybe it would have even worked for me if my health hadn’t just tanked for no particular reason.

It is a very personal choice with an invisible disability on when or if we disclose our disability. There are risks that come with it. There are also potential benefits with accommodations. It can be extremely hard to know what to choose knowing the risks though. Or having had bad experiences in the past. Or knowing of others who have had extremely bad experiences in the past. I know I have had bad experiences. And I know of so many others who have as well. It makes a person so wary of what to say and how to say it to any perspective employer.

If I returned to work I would face a lot of challenges. Some of them would be just that I do not even believe I am capable anymore. I know I was able to function to a degree while working with pain but my employer made me feel so worthless that I felt like a complete failure. And a significant part of me believes I did fail. If I went to work again, in any field, that self-worth issue would be a challenge for me. A huge part of me would be extremely wary of giving any employer that sort of ammo again. I wonder if I would hide my disability just because of that fear even though certain accommodations would benefit me.

It is very likely if I returned to the workforce I would be keenly interested in any company I chose to work for. How past employees rank them. How they have treated people. What their atmosphere is like. How diverse they are. I would want to know all this prior to even applying. And if I had an interview I would what to ask them about all these things as well. I would never want to work for a company that is toxic. I also know that I would pay a massive amount of attention to my specific skills and needs. I would want to work in a field that allows for the flexibility that I know I would need to thrive.

See more posts

Disability Pride Month
What is Ableism
Mental Illness: Stigma thoughts

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2 thoughts on “Should I inform an employer I have a disability?

  1. I would not disclose it. I don’t believe employers tell the truth about things like this. They make up a reason to fire you even though the real reason is your disability. I am aware that I am cynical.

    Liked by 1 person

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