One in 4 U.S. adults has a disability that impacts their mobility, learning, memory, vision, hearing, or self-care. If you are a person with a disability, you may have questions about how to talk about your disability with a prospective or current employer. The decision to disclose is always individualized; here are some tips to prepare you for the conversation.
Should I even disclose? Disclosure is a personal decision. To invoke the employment protections of the Americans with Disabilities Act, or to request accommodations, you'll need to disclose to your employer. If you require accommodations during any part of the application or interview process, you'll want need to disclose to your recruiter or interviewer. If you don't require accommodations, it may not be necessary to disclose.
What accommodations do I need? You'll want to do some research into the nature of the job, the work environment, and specific tasks to get a sense of necessary accommodations. Keep in mind that accommodations that you had in high school or college, such as extended time on tests, may not need to be requested as formal accommodations. For example, if you use an alternate location for taking tests, you can let your employer know that for work requiring deep concentration, it is best for you to be in an area with little distraction. AskJan.org is a great resource to learn about accommodations that individuals with similar disabilities found helpful.
What should I say? You'll want to include a concise description of your disability. It is okay to be brief! Avoid using overly clinical terms. Reiterate your skills and abilities, and include any limitations related to your disability that relate to the job. Lastly, include any accommodations you might need.
"One thing you should know about me is that I am on the autism spectrum. That means that I sometimes have difficulty understanding non-verbal communication and tend to take things literally. With my previous experience, I am confident that I can complete the key tasks in this job, but it is helpful if I have written instructions when I am learning a new task to cut down on any miscommunication."
When should I disclose? The most popular time for disclosure is after you have a job offer in hand, but before you accept the office. Others may disclose during the interview, especially after they are asked the question "is there anything else I should know about you" by their interviewer. For some, disclosing directly to their supervisor after starting a job makes the most sense. Some choose to include disclose as part of their resume or cover letter, however, this may have the unintended consequence of calling attention to your disability rather than your skills. Lastly, avoid disclosing after encountering challenges on the job. It is far better to speak up and be proactive!
Disclosure is one of many complex decisions that are a part of the job search process. For some, the need for an accommodation will dictate the timing of disclosure (for instance, the need for a sign language interpreter for interviews). For others, their disability is a part of their identity and a point of pride, and makes sense to bring up during your interview as one of your strengths. Of course, you may decide not to bring up your disability at all if it has no impact on your job performance. There is no "right" or "wrong" way to navigate this decision. Reflect on what makes the most sense for you, and then plan out and rehearse your disclosure "script" so you feel comfortable and confident.