Disclosing a Disability
"Disclosure" can sound like such a dirty word, like revealing something that's shameful. Having a non-visible disability, however, isn't a bad secret, and you have the power to decide when and how to communicate or "disclose" it to a potential future employer.
Disclosing is a personal decision
Years of dealing with sidelong looks, societal stigma, withdrawal, and disbelief may have left their mark. No matter how many times we read that it's fine to have a non-visible disability, that we are legally protected in the workplace, and that it's fine to disclose our disability to an employer ("the ADA!"), deep inside, it can be hard to reconcile your experiences and beliefs with what you hear.
Not telling an employer straight off in an interview that you have a disability may feel dishonest. On the other hand, you may be concerned that if they really knew who you are - a person with a disability - they wouldn't want you; and that as soon as they find out, they really won't want you. But if you tell them up front (in the cover letter even) that you have a disability, then if they don't invite you in for an interview, or offer you the job, you wonder, "Was it because I told them?" It's easy to feel caught between a rock and a hard place. What to do?
The answer: You have to decide. Disclosing is a personal decision, just like everything else in the job search process. It is a decision that you have to make, and because your disability is yours, only you really know the answer to how you will (or will not) disclose. You are not under any obligation to do so.
Know Your Rights
Employers are not required to provide accommodations if they are not aware of the need.
That being said, you should know your rights as covered by the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act). The ADA prohibits job discrimination against people with disabilities and requires employers to provide reasonable accommodation to qualified employees and applicants with disabilities unless such accommodations would pose an undue hardship (too costly or too extensive). The employee with a disability is responsible for letting the employer know that an accommodation is needed; employers are not required to provide accommodations if they are not aware of the need.
You have a legal right to accommodation so long as you are qualified to perform the essential job functions, and so long as you tell the employer you need them. Disclosure to receive accommodation makes sense; it will level the playing field so that you can perform as brilliantly as you can.
The Timing is up to You
When you choose to disclose is up to you. If you know that an employer is specifically trying to recruit people with disabilities, it makes sense to disclose upfront. If you're not sure, you can wait until after you have a job offer (and no, that's not lying).
Working professionals with disabilities have a variety of takes on when to disclose (and, like a resume review, nearly everyone is going to have a different take on what should be said). But one solid bottom line in all the differing opinions is: Make sure you are qualified for the essential functions of the job.
Preparation is Key
- Research potential employers so you know their recruitment efforts for people with disabilities.
- Look for networking opportunities - Talk to professionals with disabilities.
- Join campus disability-related groups to learn of others' strategies.
- Practice writing an accommodation request letter.
- Review the ADA to know what's what.
- Get help to strengthen your self-confidence and belief in your capabilities.