Disclosure and the Job Search
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Disclosure and the Job Search

The following is a special needs program update from College Living Experience | CLE | Choose Your Future. You may also click here to read the original article on the program’s website.

By Kati Strong, Career Development Instructor

Disclosure in the work placeSearching for a job can be a challenging experience for anyone. Resumes, cover letters, phone calls, interviews; the stress of new people, places and tasks can be overwhelming at times. For the job seeker with a disability, there can be an added layer of questions and concerns surrounding whether or when to disclose their disability to a potential employer. This article will provide some helpful insights to consider as you think about whether and when disclosing a disability to an employer is right for you.

Barriers to Disclosure:

In conversations with CLE career development students who are in the midst of a job search, many concerns have been raised about disclosing their disability to employers. Some of them include:

  • Fear of discrimination
  • Concerns over judgment or stereotypes, exclusion, or being treated differently than others
  • Worries that it will cause them to be denied opportunities
  • Disclosing personal and sensitive information can be embarrassing and/or difficult

Some applicants may decide that despite their disability they can manage their career in the same way as other job seekers and do not need to disclose their disability. If a candidate has confidence that they have developed “compensatory strategies and have the ability to self-accommodate without assistance,” this may be the right decision for them.

Reasons to Disclose:

There are many potential benefits of disclosing a disability to a potential or current employer. They include:

  • denver3To obtain reasonable accommodations- “there are no requirements that you disclose your disability to anyone at any time, but in order to receive accommodations at work or in school, you must disclose”
  • To provide legal protection against discrimination
  • To ensure you’re getting what you need to be successful (for example, you can explain that your disability may provide certain limitations in receiving information one way, but also explain how you learn and work best to your boss)
  • Disability rights and anti-discrimination laws lead “some companies [to] actively recruit people with disabilities to meet Affirmative Action goals”
  • One new law that was just enacted this year requires any agency or company with a federal contract to set a goal of 7% of their workforce consisting of individuals with disabilities, so these organizations are highly motivated to recruit qualified employees with disabilities.
  • Disclosing your disability may “improve your self-image through self-advocacy”

So You’ve Decided to Disclose… But When?

For job hopefuls who have decided that it is in their best interest to disclose their disability, they must next consider the best way to do so. First of all, when is the best time to share this information? Before an interview? During the interview? Or maybe after the job offer? Once again, this choice must be guided by individual circumstances and individual strengths and weaknesses.

BEFORE

On the other hand, an interview can pose a variety of challenges for individuals with disabilities. For example, if an applicant has a physical disability, they may need to ensure that the interview location is wheelchair accessible. Or, in another example, we can consider the complex social interactions required in an interview that can be difficult to navigate even without a disability. In some situations, an individual’s social skills or cognitive skills may make an interview unlikely to be successful without prior notice to the employer of the applicant’s disability.

DURING

Some CLE career development students choose to disclose their disability themselves during an interview. Others choose to allow their job coach to notify the company ahead of the interview and disclose the applicant’s disability. We have had several employers respond with thanks for this information, as it allows them to approach the interview with a better understanding of the applicant’s interactions and responses within the context of their disability (and of their abilities as well, since this information can be provided by the job coach ahead of time).

AFTER

Some CLE career development students have earned jobs without ever disclosing their disability on the front end. If a job candidate can present themselves well, speak easily to others and has no physical or language barriers preventing them from successfully navigating an interview, they may choose to wait until after they have been offered a job to share their disability and discuss any necessary accommodations for the position.

You Know When… Now How?

Once an individual has decided when they will disclose, they can consider how (and how much) to disclose. Consider how your disability affects your potential abilities within a job: is it visible or hidden? Will it impact your interactions with others? Will it impact your ability to complete tasks at work? “Effective disclosure skills require that you share information regarding your disability-related needs and that you provide creative, practical suggestions for job accommodations”. This will require you to understand your disability and where you may need accommodations so that you can advocate for yourself. Finally, always follow up with your strengths; these are often related to your disability too. For example, several of our clients with a diagnosis of autism have learned that while they may struggle with social interactions and unwritten social rules, they are also extremely good at being focused and detail-oriented. All of these traits may be related to their diagnosis, and many of these are strengths!

Navigating the road of job applications and interviews is a challenge no matter who you are or what your strengths and challenges are. Those who are best prepared for success on the journey are those who know themselves, make good use of their strengths, are aware of their challenges and strive to find methods to adapt to and overcome them. It is important NEVER to use your disability as an excuse, but instead be ready to advocate for yourself and what you need to be a contributing, valuable member of a team at work.

All quotes taken from National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth. (2005). The 411 on Disability Disclosure Workbook. Washington, DC: Institute for Educational Leadership.

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