When should you disclose a disability during the job search?

We all know how nerve-wracking preparing for an interview can be. You have to dress appropriately, have a polished resume, know about the company you are interviewing with and anticipate, as well as prepare answers for, the questions you might be asked. This can be (and often is) intimidating for anyone. If you are one of the countless job-seekers with a disability, you are faced with two other considerations…should you disclose (tell the company about) your disability and if so, how much should you tell and when.

Some people with disabilities believe strongly that you should not disclose your situation before the interview even if it is an obvious impairment such as the use of a wheelchair. The rationale behind this technique is that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) states that buildings must be wheelchair accessible. However, the downside of “shocking” the employer in this manner is that he or she will often feel embarrassed and/or unprepared to deal with your situation. There is even a chance that he or she will feel hostile. Keep in mind that while the employer legally cannot discriminate against you because of a disability, they can form an impression about your open, honest communication based upon when and how you disclose. As a person with a disability, I know all too well how difficult disclosure decisions can be. I personally feel that it is best to just be upfront about my situation by disclosing when I am asked to come in for the interview.

If you have a disability, many career counselors and employers would encourage you to inform interviewers about your individual situation before you arrive for the interview. This can be done either in your cover letter (if you are comfortable with that and have enough room to do so) or when you are confirming the time and place of the interview. An important thing to understand is that if you disclose in a cover letter it could lessen your chances of getting an interview, depending upon the job requirements.

Regardless of how and when you explain your situation; there are some necessary steps you should take:

  • Always present your disability in the most positive way possible.
  • Explain specifically how you will do the job and be sure to highlight your skills.
  • When you are discussing your disability, it is best to just give a quick overview. You do not need to go into detail.
  • Mentioning that you do not expect any special treatment and that you can provide references to verify your work experience are good ideas as well.

There are some final things that you should keep in mind. The most important thing is that you do not have to disclose your disability to employers and it is illegal for them to ask you in an interview if you have any disabilities. However, after the interviewer has thoroughly described the job, it is legal for them to ask you if you have the ability to perform all of the essential functions of the job and ask you to demonstrate how you would do so effectively. The bottom line is that there is no one size fits all answer regarding disclosure. It all comes down to your specific disability, opinion on disclosure and comfort level in discussing your situation. The Career Services Center offers handouts on disclosing a disability: http://www.udel.edu/CSC/disclosure.html and illegal vs. legal interview questions:  http://www.udel.edu/CSC/pdfs/illegalQs.pdf .

Tanya Servis is a Graduate Assistant at the University of Delaware’s Career Services Center where she is currently earning her Master’s degree in Higher Education Administration. Tanya enjoys working with students to help them succeed in achieving their internship and career goals.

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