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Revealing Disability To A Potential Employer

December 4, 2012

This is a guest post by Steff Green.

Entering the workforce with a disability can be both a daunting, and extremely rewarding, experience. The leap into the workforce can be scary, especially if you’re worried about how you stack up against the other applicants. But working for a company with decent products/services and ethics that align with yours can be a great way to regain confidence and feel as though you’re contributing to society.

 

Although employment numbers for people with disabilities are shockingly low, research estimates that there are more than 1.3 million people with disabilities in the UK who are available for and want to work (Shaw Trust, 2012).  The reasons many have not been able to find employment are many and complex, but one of them is the fact that given a pool of equally-qualified candidates, many employers simply won’t take the “risk” of employing someone with a disability when they don’t need to.

 

This brings the issue of disclosure to the fore. At what stage in the recruitment process should you reveal your disability to a potential employer? Are you even required to reveal it at all? How do you disclose your disability in such a way that you avoid the experience of discrimination, but protect your rights to adaptive equipment and accommodations in the workplace?

When is the Best Time to Disclosure Your Disability?

 

Disclose is a complex decision, and there are many factors that have to be weighed up. For one thing, you’re always dealing with the inbuilt prejudices employers or colleagues have about people with disabilities – whatever these may be. You may have a disability that’s immediately apparent – such as being blind or using a wheelchair – and will be revealed at any face-to-face meeting anyway. You may have a disability that is invisible to the eyes of an employer, but couldn’t be kept secret in the workplace without some danger to yourself. You may have experienced discrimination or disappointment before, and this affects

 

There are different points at which a disability can be disclosed. First, there is the resume or covering letter when you first apply for a job. The pros of disclosing on your application are that it allows you to be upfront about your disability from the onset, and leaves it to the employer to decide if the disability is an issue. However, your disclosure may cause your application to be passed over in favour of equally qualified candidates without disabilities, and doesn’t give you an opportunity to discuss your situation with the recruiter before they make a decision.

 

When the employer calls you to arrange an interview, you could tell them about your disability if it is something they will notice at the interview. This means you won’t surprise them by showing up in a wheelchair or with a guide dog, and will start the interview off with a sense of honesty and integrity.

 

At the interview is probably the best time to disclose and discuss your disability, as it allows the employer to ask questions and understand your skills and limitations. Create a script that briefly explains your disability and any adaptations you’ll need, and focus on the positives. Use specific examples to show how your disability has not impacted your ability to perform specific tasks.

 

Bringing up your disability at any time after an interview, for instance, when the job offer comes in, after you start working at the company, or when a problem arises during your duties, can foster distrust between you and your employer. The longer you put off disclosure, the more difficult it becomes.

 

Of course, depending upon your disability and the type of job you do, there may be no need to disclose it at all. But, in general, honesty is the best policy, and being upfront about your skills and limitations allows you to work with your employer to find adaptations that make your work life easier and more enjoyable.

How to Prepare for Disclosure

 

Before applying for a position or disclosing your disability to a potential employer, it’s a good idea to do your own research and pre-empt any questions or concerns they might have.

 

Many people find it helpful to prepare a “script” explaining their disability, and practice it in front of a family member or the mirror before the interview. The employer doesn’t need every detail of your medical history (and they shouldn’t be asking!) but they do need to know that you’re reliable, valuable as a team member and that you can do the job just as well as anyone else. Try not to focus on your disability so much as your skills, qualifications and experience. Keep your script positive and upbeat.

 

Consider any potential adaptations that will need to be made to enable to you to do the job – and come up with cost-effective solutions. Instead of avoiding the challenges, demonstrate to your employer that you’re aware of them and have already found solutions. This shows you are a solutions-focused person who’ll be an asset to the workplace.

 

If you use any adaptive equipment, it may be helpful to bring this in to the interview and demonstrate it to the recruiter, for example: Braille-note, or hearing aid.

 

If you have a medical condition or disability that may require you to have assistance from other employees, your employer will need to train them. This is an added cost to them and may be a deterrent to hiring you. You can briefly explain some of the activities you require help with and how other employees can be educated. An employer may not realise that staff are already trained – for example, anyone with a first aid certificate has knowledge in dealing with seizures.

 

You can point the employer to other sources of information. Offer to email them links to a couple of websites or local support groups for your condition. (This also gives you an opportunity to follow up after the interview).

 

When the answer is NO

 

Despite your best efforts to show your disability in a positive light, it’s inevitable that you’ll meet resistance from some employers. People will dismiss you the minute they see that cane in your hand or the hearing aid on your ear.

 

I trained as an archaeologist and then a museum curator. I had been interning at a living history museum for six months when they asked for applications for a paid position. I put in my application, but was passed over. When I pressed for a reason, I was told it was because they thought I would be a health and safety issue, because of the amount. I was fuming – so it was OK to have me work for them for free, but when I wanted a job, suddenly I was “a health and safety issue”?

 

It hurts. It makes you upset and angry. But it’s something every person with a disability who enters the workforce will probably experience at sometime in his or her life. You have to remind yourself that anyone who is going to discriminate against you for your disability is not someone you want to work for, and an amazing job with a horrible boss will quickly turn into a horrible job. I was much better off not working for the museum, because they weren’t ready to accept that I could do the job as well as anyone else.

 

 

Most employers are willing to take a shot on an employee with a disability; as long as they’re satisfied you can do the job you’re employed for. Look at the job-hunting process as an opportunity to educate people about your disability. If you can demonstrate to an employer that, with adaptations, you can do the job as well as anyone, and that you’ve taken the time to think of ways around any issues your disability may present.

 

Bio: Although she’s had many jobs over the years, including archaeologist, builder’s labourer and art gallery docent, Steff Green is now a legally-blind writer and illustrator based in New Zealand. Steff writes for the Disabled Shop Blog on disability advice, products and issues in the UK, such as her recent piece on Caring for the Carers.

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