On disclosing a disability

The debate on how people with disabilities can disclosure* is one that seems to be without an end.  There are many differing opinions on how and when a job seeker should inform a prospective employer of a disability and request an accommodation. While my thoughts will only toss another voice in the mix but I’ll provide them in case they offer reassurance to someone who needs it.

For starters, informing an employer about one’s disability is on the same level as giving out a credit card number. It’s personal and should be shared only on a ‘need to know’ basis.

Shopper don’t walk into a store waving their credit cards to store clerks. They only take it out when ready to pay for an item. It’s not the store clerk’s business to have shopper’s credit card information before that point. Managing information about a disability is much like this. Employers do not have a valid reason for knowing if a job applicant has a disability until they plan to conduct a job interview, offer employment and when a job accommodation is needed. Even then there are conditions that should be met before an individual self-identifies.

For example, a deaf person should not identify as a person with a disability during resume submission because the application may never reach the point where the two parties meet.  However, self-identification may be in a deaf candidate’s interest after receiving a job interview invitation — but only if an accommodation (e.g. interpreter support, assisted listening devices, etc) is needed.

Those with disabilities that are apparent (e.g. wheelchair users, etc.) should also follow this approach. There is no valid reason for an employer know about the existence of a disability until they decide to meet with the individual.  At that point, the candidate must decide if self-identification is needed to help ensure that he or she has a beneficial meeting.

* I prefer to use “identify” or “self-identify”over “disclosure” because the latter suggests that having a disability is a dark secret or an undesirable state.