Disabilities & Job Searching

Searching for a new job or your first job can be stressful for anyone, but for a person with a disability, the job search can be much more stressful. We need to find a job that fits our career goals, abilities, and is accessible via the transportation supports available to us.  To disclose or not disclose our disability is always the question when job searching, and the only person that can answer that is you, the person with the disability. If you choose to disclose your disability to a future employer, the next question is when do you disclose your disability?

Here are some questions to ask yourself when considering if and when to disclose your disability to your employer or a prospective employer.

Do you need accommodations to apply for the position or to participate in the interview process?

If the answer is yes, then it may be in your best interest to disclose your disability early on in the process, however this can be a different situation for everyone depending accommodations needed at that time.

For example, a person with a visual impairment may need an accommodation to help them fill out the online application. This type of accommodation would require the person to disclose their disability or that they have a disability before they even apply for the position. Speaking from my own personal experience, the last part of the interview process for the position I have now required me to give a presentation to current staff members at the organization. On the rubric for the presentation, the rubric stated that voice volume would be taken into consideration. I know that I can be soft-spoken at times when speaking to groups of people. Instead of stating my disability, I just simply asked for a microphone to be available during my presentation.

Pro Tip: If the employer has a statement on their website about contacting a point person for accommodations during the application process, this is a good sign that they are inclusive to people with disabilities. If it’s a challenge to locate the information needed to request accommodations during the application or interview process, this may indicate future barriers to accommodations once employed.

Is your disability going to be an asset to you when applying for a particular job or employer? If the answer is yes, then your disability may be something you want to highlight in your cover letter. 

For example, I work for a center for independent living, which is a nonprofit that supports people with disabilities and advocates for disability rights. As part of our bylaws, 50% of our staff must identify as a person with a disability. After doing some research and discovering this bylaw when I appliedfor my position, I made sure to highlight my disability in my cover letter.

If you do not think your disability would be an asset to you during the application process and you do not need accommodations to complete the application, it is best to wait to disclose your disability.

Is your disability a visible disability? If yes, then it is important to note that the interviewer is going to notice your disability as soon as you enter the room.  

It is important to note that just because your disability is visible, it does not mean you are required to disclose or explain your disability to anyone when you enter an interview.

Do you need accommodations to perform the essential job duties listed on the job posting?  If yes, then it may be best to have answers ready for the interview regarding what accommodation you may need to perform the tasks that the job requires, and how the accommodation will support you in completing those tasks.

When answering those types of questions, you are still not required to disclose your actual disability, you just need to be able to identify how a particular accommodation will help you perform or complete a task.

Pro Tip: if you wish to not disclose your disability before you are offered the job or not at all, do not answer the voluntary demographic questions at the end of applications. Those questions often ask about one’s race, gender, and whether or not you have a disability and can lead to possible discrimination. If you choose “prefer not to answer” for one of the questions, it is best to select “prefer not to answer” for all those questions. Only selecting “prefer not to answer” for one question but not the others, can be a giveaway in itself.

Please note that the above information is based on personal/professional experience and is not meant to be utilized as legal advice.

About Isabella Bullock: Isabella, or Izzy for short, is an employment specialist for the Center of Independent Living. She is an iced coffee enthusiast who enjoys getting lost in a good book. Click here to learn more about Isabella.