Tech & Work

When should a job applicant disclose a disability?

Even though the law protects people with disabilities in hiring situations, the issue of when to actually disclose a disability is still a puzzle for some.

I received an email last week from a TechRepublic member who asks at what point in the hiring process he should disclose his disability to an employer. His email:

One issue I have is that I'm disabled. Were I to be offered a job, when in the process do I (should I) mention certain accommodations I require?

Also, in some more casual interviews, they'll want to do a 'walkabout' and take off. I can't do that. I can't walk any distance or do so briskly. Nor can I just 'stand around' talking or being talked at.

I've gritted my teeth before and gone along with it, but the physical reaction has been significant.

I know on some applications, they'll ask if you need special assistance due to disability. Well, not really: I can get to the interview, sit comfortably and discuss things and, at the close, get up and walk out.

I've had it happen that saying, for example, "I can't walk that far," has turned a friendly exchange into a bit of a chill. I no longer 'fit in.'

This is a complicated issue, as you well know. Although in the United States and a significant number of EU member states, pre-interview disclosure is against the law, offering significant protection to people with disabilities and long-term medical conditions. That means a prospective employer can't ask on an application if you need special assistance due to disability. If you have actually seen such wording, you may want to talk to someone involved with the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act).

Now, in your case, your disability is not obvious and would only come to light if you chose to mention it. Since an interview is a two-way street, I would recommend full disclosure. If you require certain accommodations as you mention, it is in your best interest to mention them before the hiring decision is made. You want to make sure you'll get what you need.

But as you're surely aware, an employer may decide not to hire you based on this information and, unfortunately, there may be no way you can prove discrimination. You can lessen the chances of this by being forthcoming with your disability and talk about how you've successfully managed your challenges on the job before. For example, if you're applying for a programming position, your inability to walk long distances shouldn't be a factor. Here are some ways to handle the subject in the interview:

  • Prepare something ahead of time that explains your challenges so you can give it to employers once you've disclosed your disabilities.
  • Give some examples and references of your accommodations. Provide the prospective employer a reference from someone who has seen you create and use accommodations effectively on the job. This kind of preparation also shows your creative abilities on the job, which can create an advantage for you over other applicants.

Anyone else had experience in this particular type of situation who could add more tips?


Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

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