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. 


Why organizations need a Chief Accessibility and Inclusion Officer

Over the past 20 years, the disability community has witnessed a steady increase in the number of businesses making equity statements as a way to communicate their support. They usually follow the refrains of ‘valuing differences and the creativity, productivity, and service excellence that people with disabilities offer’ or being ‘strongly committed to fostering diversity within our community’. Such statements are nice words but the disability community views them as empty ones when companies don’t have a practice framework to ensure that people managers live by them. Ensuring disability inclusion requires action – not just talk.

“But we have a diversity program” some have exclaimed when I make this point at meeting with employers. While diversity programs are great for raising acceptance of most diversity groups, they are seldom effective when it comes to people with disabilities. There are a few reasons for this.

The first thing is that, unlike groups based on culture, gender, religion, complexion and so on, disability is distinct in the way that its members tend to require adjustment to the work environment or how the work is done that goes beyond being tolerant and/or providing recognition for their differences. Employers must expend time and/or resources to remove accessibility barriers. The amount of resources required to make these adjustments depends on how the physical work environment, organizational culture and the function of the individual’s job interact with the employee’s disability and its severity.

Although it’s been said that the average accommodation cost less than $5oo, the price tag can sometimes go into thousands of dollars in cases that involve renovations or consumable accessibility services (e.g. personal support workers, Braille translation, audio transcribing, sign language interpreters, etc.). This creates a disincentive for employer that does not exist with the other diversity groups.

The second reason that including disability under the diversity banner is not effective is that disability is an individualized experience. Where people from one culture can use the diversity program framework to draw strength from others from the same group, people with disabilities to not gravitate towards others with disabilities on the basis that we are different from those who do not have one. This is even true when two persons share a similar disability. There is no bonding factors such as shared a language, folkways and/or values within the disability community – just shared behaviours. We with disabilities have stronger bonds with others from the cultures passed down to us from our parents than we do with other who have disabilities. (Note: Deaf Culture is the only exception among the disability groups because its members do have a shared language and values. All of which are passed peer-to-peer within the residential school setting.)

The final thing is that all cultures have their own way of responding – often negative – to the existence of a member who has a disability. While the views of people with disabilities has been generally sympathetic with cultural differences, the treatment people with disabilities has been, historically, that of over-institutionalization and being either shut out of the work force or segregation in the type of work we could be offered. As everyone knows, culture does not change overnight and certainly not with the creation of a diversity program or with drafting of an equity statement. So when disability is groups with the other diversity groups, its needs are commonly overlooked. (Those who disagree should ask a few persons with disabilities how high up the see disability sitting on the diversity totem pole!)

In view of the disability experience, which is something that most people without disabilities cannot fathom because it’s hidden from them, it’s not surprising that promoting accommodation policies and the use of equity statement do not encourage people with disabilities to be more open about their conditions. Nevertheless, becoming aware of this experience helps clarify why people in this equity group are reluctant to inform employers about their conditions when ever possible.
For the reasons listed above, employers seeking to build workforces that are truly equitable must create a framework that demonstrates not only their value for the talent and skills of people with disabilities but also that they have a process to integrate them in a manner that leads to opportunities to rise in the ranks.

To create such a framework, employers must take disability inclusion out from under the diversity umbrella and establish a program to address the issues that are unique to employees and job candidates with disabilities. Such a program would have accountability assigned to a Chief Accessibility and Inclusion Offer, preferably a person with a disability, who would have resources available to ensure the removal of barriers to not only accessing the environment but also to opportunities for advancement. Companies that create such a program would demonstrate that they are seriousness about fostering inclusion.

The opinions expressed in this article are my own and I do not claim that are consistent or reflect to views or policies of any organization that I’m currently work for or those that I have supported in the past. 

Job Interview Tip: Hold the Horses

One pitfall that makes job seekers stumble during the job application process is bringing up salary and benefits while still going through interviews. This usually happens at the point during the interview when recruiters ask “Do you have any questions for us?”. That question entices job seekers, especially those unemployed, to leap at the chance to ask about the salary range that comes with the position.

Bringing up salary during an initial interview is simply not good because it gives an appearance that money, not the work or the company, is what matters to the individual. Moreover, there is nothing to negotiate during the interview stage. The initial interview is usually just the first of several and those hurdles need to be cleared before a job offer is made. Employers seldom make hiring decisions when the candidate is still in front of them. Managers choose who to make a job offer after all candidates are gone and after reviewing notes to determine which candidate presented the best match for the job and company.

Candidates who interview smart avoid shooting their toes off with salary and benefits questions by preparing an interview guide of queries related to the company, department and the team. This approach will leave an impression that the individual is collecting information to make an informed decision about working for the company and increases the chance of reaching the negotiation stage.


The opinions expressed in this article are my own and I do not claim that are consistent or reflect to views or policies of any organization that I’m currently work for or those that I have supported in the past. 

Playoff Game Rule: Throwing an incomplete pass is not an option

The New England Patriots had the ball at their own yard line with nine seconds left in the fourth quarter of the Superbowl Football player reaching to catch a football that just bounced off the ground incomplete.XLVI. The New York Giants were biting nails because mere four point lead is never safe when Tom Brady has the ball in his hands. After all, Brady was no stranger to come from behind victories.

Fortunately for the Giants, it didn’t work out for the Pats. Brady’s final pass was deflected and the ball bounced on the ground but bounced nowhere nearly as high as the hopes of those residing in the City of Boston.

Job interviews are like trying to get throw that winning touchdown during a playoff game. Just like football teams trudge through the regular season collecting wins and overcoming adversity for a chance to make the playoffs, job seekers who have reached this stage have already passed a few hurdles to get where they are. Being invited to a job interview is to make the playoffs and a false step can knock their candidacy from the running and they must take steps to ensure that they do not fumble the ball with the goal line in sight.

They are many ways to create turnovers during a job interview. The most common ones include being late, dressing inappropriately or forgetting to bring a list of references. While these embarrassing missteps don’t reflect well, job candidates have been known to overcome them win the job. However, some mistakes are just as fatal to a job seeker’s candidacy as throwing an interception when time is running out of the game.

Not Doing the Homework

One of the first things that I explored while interviewing job candidates is their knowledge about the company that I represented. Surprisingly, candidates tends tend to know very little about the company that they applied. There is no excuse for not having checked the company website to gain some knowledge about the organization and products. No one as

ks job candidates to memorize the names of the executive management team. However, demonstrating an understanding about what the company does and how it’s structured demonstrates a real interests in joining the team.

Blabbing through the Interview

During the average interview, a job candidate does most of the talking but being too eager does hurt. It can come across as sales pitch rather than a conversation. I once had an interviewee describe how much she loved dogs and her mothers

Doberman breeding business despite that it had nothing to do with the job that she applied. Job candidates can do well to focus on describing how well he or she has preformed the work with a previous employer because the recruiters are not interested in a life story.


Being nervous during an interview is natural because such conversations are inherently provoke anxiety. it’s also natural to lose focus when describing experience because the mind is split between describing and monitoring the interviewer reaction. During interviews, I’ve seen many candidates talk for long periods without actually answering the question that I asked. Job candidates can avoid this by ensuring they understand what the interviewer seeks to learn from the answer, come up with an appropriate example and then delivering it in a concise manner.

Avoiding Accountability

Very few job seekers have perfect records. Recruiters have seen many candidates with spots on their resumes. The way job candidates can overcome this is the take accountability for the situation as honestly, accurately as possible but don’t dwell on it. The worse thing a candidate can do is avoid accountability of the experience. Heck, I was once fired for tearing the roof off an elevator. However, I don’t waste my time explaining that the shop owner didn’t provide elevator operator training. My description of that experience is, instead, usually “I was young and inexperienced at the time”.

Going for the Hail Mary Pass

Asking about start dates, vacation benefits, salary and employment related items will kill a job candidate’s chance faster than it takes to walk out the door. Not only is the interviewer not yet as the stage to start talking about these issues, it comes across as being to either arrogant, eager or needy. One candidate that I referred to a hiring manager had a great interview but fumbled at the door by tossing out his salary request as his hand grabbed the door knob. His application file came back to me with feedback with “solid candidate but too eager”. Job candidates should have a game plan that includes promoting their experience and learning more about the role. They need to stay with this game plan through the entire interview and all the way home no matter how well the session went. The only time to start talking about salary and start dates is when someone says “we would like to offer the position to you”.