Should You Disclose Your Disability to Your Employer?
By Lauren Steinbacher
Disclosing a disability to an employer is a controversial and personal topic. Fears of revealing one’s disability can lead to anxiety and uncertainty. Frequent questions people ask themselves are “Will my employer accept me for me?” “Will my employer still want me as an employee if they know?” “Will my co-workers treat me fairly and with respect?” Only the person applying for the job can answer these questions for themselves. However, for some people with disabilities, disclosure is not a choice. If someone uses a wheelchair or a white cane to support orientation and mobility, their disabilities are apparent upon meeting. But for many people who have “invisible disabilities,” such as autism spectrum disorder or a mental health condition, when and how to disclose is a difficult subject.
Another common question for those considering disclosure is about the timing of disclosure. For example, should disclosure occur in the interview or once an individual is hired as an employee? Many people who choose to disclose do so in the interview process. People with disabilities often make this timing choice as they want to ensure that the company truly wants and values candidates with disabilities. This timing also allows candidates to discuss and secure reasonable accommodations during the interview. Others choose to disclose once they start the job. This later timing of disclosure may occur simply because of confidence as an employee gains comfort and familiarity with their employer or perhaps the need for an unforeseen accommodation emerged, or perhaps it was for other personal reasons. Disclosure can occur anywhere on the path to and into employment, or an individual can make the personal decision not to disclose.
Disclosure can be an advantage for job seekers applying to companies actively seeking out talent with disabilities. Unfortunately, individuals with disabilities report having difficulty finding information about which companies are actively recruiting talent with disabilities. The key for applicants with disabilities is to do some research into various employers before applying to locate those genuinely inclusive companies. If you are looking for employment at a smaller business, you can ask people in your local community about the company’s current hiring practices, research reviews about the company, and even ask for an informational interview before deciding to apply. Large companies often have public information that can easily be found. Here are five tips for helping to determine if an employer is “disability friendly” commonly used for large corporations.
- Are they registered as part of Disability: IN? Disability: IN is an organization with 280 companies that are working toward achieving disability inclusion and equality.
- Are they a member of the Valuable 500? The Valuable 500 companies have committed to putting disability inclusion on their business agenda.
- Do they have a public statement about disability inclusion on their website? For example, many companies have diversity and inclusion statements, but does the company specifically mention disability?
- Do they have any specific disability hiring programs? For example, do they have an autism at work program, neurodiversity at work, or a disability hiring initiative?
- Do they publicly disclose their disability hiring statistics? Unfortunately, very few companies publicly disclose their disability hiring statistics. The ones that do clearly value transparency and honesty with the public and their stakeholders.
Answering these five questions may help you determine if you want to disclose your disability. Disclosing is an extremely personal decision; each person must do what is right for them. And individuals can change their mind. If disclosure in the interview or during the first few weeks (or even months or years) of employment does not feel right, choosing not to disclose is perfectly acceptable.
NEXT for AUTISM is a New York City-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit that is working to transform the national landscape of services for people with autism by strategically designing, launching, and supporting innovative programs. NEXT for AUTISM believes that individuals with autism have the potential to live fulfilling, productive lives when supported by excellent services and connected to their communities. NEXT for AUTISM has four main areas of focus including home, health and well-being, social, and employment.
Lauren Steinbacher is the director of Strategic Workforce Initiatives for NEXT for AUTISM. Lauren has worked with national and international companies for more than eight years assisting them with enhancing their cultures to become more inclusive for people with disabilities. She is currently working on a new initiative called NEXT for DEI to help companies promote their disability hiring statistics and hiring goals.