In this section:
- The Decision to Disclose
- During the interview process
- Interview Accommodations
- Non-apparent Disabilities
- Dealing Openly With a Disability
- Guiding Principles for Job Seekers in the Disclosure Process
- When an Employer Makes Inappropriate Inquiries
- After the job offer
- Whom do you tell?
- Final Thoughts on Disclosure
The decision to disclose
For the job seeker, self-disclosure of a disability is a personal choice.
The applicant should disclose disability-related information only as necessary, and to as few people as necessary.
Additionally, the employment service provider must always get permission from the job seeker before disclosing information about his or her disability to an employer, and must always abide by the job seeker’s decision. Staff should never share personal information about the job seeker with supervisors and co-workers at the person’s job site.
During the interview process
Disclosure: Before or During the Interview
In most cases, if a person can complete the hiring process without having to disclose a disability, it may be best to wait until after a job offer has been made — that is, if disclosure will happen at all.
However, there are situations in which earlier disclosure may be appropriate:
Is the disability obvious?
In cases where the disability is readily apparent, such as an individual who uses a wheelchair or who is blind, disclosure will occur the first time the potential employer meets the individual. If the applicant elects to disclose his or her disability prior to the interview, a potential strategy is to provide basic information and request accommodations, if necessary, after the applicant has a confirmed appointment for an interview.
Is the disability less obvious?
If the job seeker displays behavior or has physical characteristics that could be misinterpreted as “unusual”, it may be wise to consider whether disclosure might help avoid any misconceptions the employer may about the disability.
Typical interview accommodations
If a job seeker uses a wheelchair, it is the employer’s responsibility to make the workplace, including the rest room, accessible for the interview. If the individual has difficulty communicating due to a hearing or speech impediment, an alternative method of communication must be used, such as an interpreter. Providing materials in accessible formats for people who are blind or visually impaired is also typical.
Other interview accommodations
What if the person simply interviews poorly, possibly due to cognitive limitations? What if testing is a standard part of the interview process for the job, and the person tests poorly? Will typical hiring procedures allow the employer to fully evaluate whether the applicant can perform the essential functions of the position?
If not, then possible accommodations could be:
- Having an advocate (such as an employment service provider) accompany the individual to the interview.
- Using an alternative testing format(if tests are involved).
- Using a situational assessment (i.e. allowing the applicant to try out a job for a day or two before a final hiring decision is made).
- Being hired on a trial basis.
The staff or job seeker must advocate for this type of accommodation with the employer, requesting it as a reasonable accommodation under the ADA. Such strategies should be used judiciously, and only in cases where the standard interviewing and hiring procedures put the individual at a disadvantage for equal consideration.
Explaining Interview Accommodations to the Employer
Should the job seeker request an accommodation for the job interview? It depends if the accommodation will help the job seeker have a more productive interview.
If an interview accommodation is necessary, the staff or job seeker should explain the accommodation to the employer. For example, if an interpreter will be used, then proper etiquette, such as directing questions to the individual and not the interpreter, should be discussed ahead of time.
Remember that an employer may have never used an accommodation before. It is important to emphasize how an accommodation will assist the employer in making an educated hiring decision, and to ensure that the employer is completely comfortable so that it does not distract from the hiring process.
When the disability is not readily apparent, or “hidden”, the decision of self-disclose becomes more difficult. Here are some issues to consider:
Personal ethics of the job seeker.
How does the person view the issue of non-disclosure? Some may view it as deception while others may claim that it’s “none of the employer’s business”? For some individuals, disclosure is a part of honest interactions.
Will the disability become more apparent?
Will the disability become obvious during the process of checking references and employment verification?
Is the truth relevant?
If the disability has no impact on the individual at work, there may be no reason to disclose. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) makes the assumption that the presence of a disability is irrelevant unless it clearly affects the person’s ability to do the essential parts of the job.
Are there consequences?
What are the ramifications of not disclosing the disabilities? While some employers are fearful of hiring people with previously non-apparent disabilities, some are not. Some non-apparent disabilities are more discriminated against than others. For example, mental illness is often feared and misperceived.
Remember, it is not your job to decide if a person should disclose. You are there to help weigh factors and guide a decision. No matter the outcome, you should show support by respecting his or her decision. Should the choice be made to disclose, the individual may need advice as to how, when, and to whom to disclose.
Dealing Openly With a Disability
If the job seeker discloses a disability, this information must be presented in a manner that helps the employer understand that the job seeker will be able to perform the essential functions of the job. The job seeker must explain his or her disability so that:
- the employer can understand it
- it is not perceived as negatively impacting the workplace
Guiding Principles for Job Seekers in the Disclosure Process
- Describe yourself by job qualifications, not by disability
- Articulate and demonstrate how you can perform the essential functions of the job
- Do not volunteer negative information
- Avoid medical terms or human service jargon as they can confuse and potentially scare the employer.
- Emphasize current, positive activity rather than dwelling on past negative experiences
- If possible, connect past problems and issues with significant life events
- Emphasize that you are in charge and control
Explaining a disability correctly can have an enormous impact on an employer’s perception of the person’s capabilities. For instance, instead of saying “I have an anxiety disorder”, a better alternative may be, “I have a condition that causes me to become anxious at times. When it happens I am unable to focus on what I am doing at that moment, but it does not affect others. In past jobs, I have been able to manage it effectively with minimal impact on my work. This condition does require that I have a quiet workspace, with minimal outside noise. If you hire me, I would work together with you to set up my work space so that it would be mutually satisfactory.”
When an Employer Makes Inappropriate Inquiries
While the ADA clearly states that a potential employer cannot ask questions concerning a person’s disability prior to an offer of employment, this does not necessarily stop employers from making such inquiries, even if inadvertently.
How should a job seeker respond if an interviewer asks, “What’s wrong with you?” Instead of saying, “You can’t ask me that, it’s illegal under the ADA”, a better response might be “Let me tell you all the things I can do” with a description of his or her qualifications for the job.
If the interviewer persists, the job seeker should politely inform that such inquiries are illegal. It is important that people with disabilities know and exercise their legal rights, but such rights are best used proactively. While people with disabilities should certainly pursue legal action when they have been clearly discriminated against, the ADA should be used more as an education tool, not a gavel. The goal is to get jobs, not file lawsuits.
When developing interview strategies, determine the best course of action so that the person gets the job, and succeeds on the job.
After the job offer
Once the job offer has been made, the timing of disclosure, if it happens at all, will depend on the need for accommodations as well as the preferences of the worker.
One consideration is whether the information will be better received after the employer has had the opportunity to get to know the employee independent of the disability label. If there is a probationary period for the position, the individual may wish to disclose only after that period ends. Should an immediate accommodation not be necessary, there may be no need to disclose in the short term.
Whom do you tell?
If the job seeker elects to disclose, he or she should determine whom to tell at the workplace and how much information to share possible recipients include co-workers, supervisors, managers, human resources staff, or an Equal Employment Opportunity officer.
Many employees opt to tell their supervisor or manager, or a human resources representative. Keep in mind that there are very few situations where everyone in the workplace needs to know.
Generally, it is best to begin by disclosing only to those who need to know. This allows the individual to form relationships prior to disclosure and helps diminish stigma.
Final Thoughts on Disclosure
There is no one right answer for every situation. Each case will require you and the job seeker to determine how disclosure may affect the hiring process and future success on the job. The ultimate determinant is the preference of the job seeker, yet service providers should assist him or her in their decision process. Even in cases where some level of disclosure will occur, there is no reason to provide extensive details beyond what is necessary for individuals to have an understanding of the situation.
Based in part on material from:
Hoff, D., Gandolfo, C., Gold, M., Jordan, M., (2000). Demystifying Job Development, TRN, St. Augustine, FL. Web site: www.trninc.com ; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org ; voice: (800) 280-7010)