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Should you disclose a disability in a job interview?
Nearly one in five Americans has a disability, according to estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau. If you’re one of them, you might question if and when you should disclose your disability to potential employers. The answer, because every situation is different, is there is no right answer.
You’re probably familiar with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which makes it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against a qualified applicant with a disability. Unfortunately, false assumptions are still made during the interview process, and they could jeopardize your chances of getting hired. So what’s your best course of action? Below we provide some important considerations, when deciding whether or not you should proactively discuss a disability with a potential employer.
Is your disability apparent?
Your approach will likely depend on the type of disability you have. For example, a physical disability that requires use of a wheelchair is obvious when you meet an employe, thus your wheelchair is disclosing for you. On the other hand, a cognitive disability, such as autism or PTSD, is often not apparent unless disclosed. Many disabilities, like sleep disorders and fibromyalgia, are hidden and therefore it’s your choice when and how you bring up the situation, if at all.
When you may choose not to disclose
Some of the top reasons people choose not to bring up a disability include being viewed as less capable than others or being treated differently due to misconceptions. If the disability isn’t apparent and doesn’t affect your job performance, it would make sense not to mention it at all. Or if you are qualified to perform the essential functions of the position with reasonable accommodations, you may choose not to disclose in the interview, but after a job offer. Just don’t forget that in order to receive ADA protection against discrimination, an employer must be informed.
While it is illegal to discriminate against a qualified applicant because of their disability, it does happen. Additionally, some employers place a higher priority on support for disabilities than others. If you are choosing not to disclose because you are afraid a particular employer will discriminate, do you really want to work for that employer anyway?
Choosing when disclose
Although you may not be able to control your disability, you can control how and when you communicate it to an employer, if you choose to do so at all. Many people opt not to disclose a disability on an application or cover letter unless the employer is actively looking to hire people with disabilities, in which case being forthright is a clear advantage. They feel they can then be placed on an even playing field against other candidates where skill and merit are the focus.
If you would prefer to discuss your disability prior to an interview, you could mention it in the cover letter or subtly in your resume. Two easy ways are adding a bullet point about your volunteer experience at a nonprofit focused on your disability or participation/award in a disability-related activity. This provides a clear opportunity to discuss it during the interview process.
Disclosing in an interview
Bringing up a disability during an interview can be advantageous because you can address the situation head-on and give examples of why your disability is not an obstacle to your ability to do the job well. Don’t be afraid to lead the conversation. If you need a great segue, bring it up when asked “What are your strengths?” Communicate how your disability has enabled you to think outside the box and look at problems through a creative lens. Or, perhaps your disability has given you a fantastic work ethic or allowed you to be a particularly strong team player; support these statements with examples. This technique lets you easily turn a perceived negative into a shining positive.
Remember, ADA says an employer cannot ask you questions directly related to your disability, but they can ask about your ability to perform the job. For example, an interviewer can ask about your ability to lift a certain amount, stand for a specified time period or do skilled tasks such as math or typing. Stay calm and answer truthfully, offer reassurance that you can perform the tasks, and discuss any necessary and reasonable accommodations that you’ll need.
Disclosing once hired
Finally, some people won’t bring up a hidden disability until after they are hired or even later during the course of employment. Beyond protection from discrimination in the hiring process, ADA requires that employers offer disabled workers “reasonable accommodations” to perform a job, such as special software or an altered workspace design, but you need to be the one to request the accommodation and drive the conversation.
No matter when you choose to disclose information about your disability, you can do so on a need-to-know basis. That may mean only your supervisor and human resources team needs to know and not your immediate co-workers.
Always remember you are entitled to being treated respectfully and confidentially, and that reasonable work-related accommodations can be requested. Visit eeoc.gov for more information about the ADA and what it means to applicants.