To Disclose or Not to Disclose
How do you address your disability? Let’s say you’re in the grocery store and you notice someone staring, do you confront them or do you shy away? Growing up with a disability, I never really understood why people stood and stared and whispered about me behind my back. For Pete’s sake I’m standing right there, acknowledge that I exist and we can have a conversation about it. It wasn’t until I was older that I started acknowledging that someone had questions about me. I would politely answer the question which started a conversation. By the end, that person felt more comfortable talking to someone with a disability. I was no longer a strange commodity but a person with really cool talents.
What about during an interview? You’ve worked hard to get where you are. You took the time to fill out the application, you’ve gone through training or took classes, you know you’re capable of doing the job. You’ve got this! But you see that the person who is interviewing you is curious about your disability. Do you address the elephant in the room or is it none of their business? When is it appropriate to disclose that you have a disability? Or is it appropriate at all?
I was born without arms so my disability is quite noticeable. I’ve tried the approach of ignoring my disability altogether. During an interview I figured I would let my work speak for itself. That didn’t always work out. I could always tell that the interviewer had a million questions running through their head, “can she use a computer? How much adaptive equipment am I going to have to buy? Is it expensive? Is her disability going to keep her from getting to work on time?” Because of ADA laws, employers are not allowed to ask certain questions about someone’s disability even though it may be apparent that a candidate may have a disability. These laws were created to protect people with disabilities from discrimination, but that doesn’t mean that the employer has to hire me. It just means the employer cannot fire me because of my disability. And well let’s be honest it’s easier for employers not to hire someone with a disability then it is to take a chance. Furthermore, it’s even harder to prove that an employer did not hire me because of my disability. It’s really messed up if you think about it. Whatever happened to equal opportunity? This just means that I need to work 10 times as hard to prove to an employer during an interview that not only am I qualified to do the job but I am capable of doing the job.
We’ve all been told that knowledge is key and human beings are generally curious people so it’s natural for some people to want to ask some questions when they see someone that is different than their norm. However, having a disability has become such a taboo that it is become common practice to ignore someone with a disability and the interview room has become no exception. But when I started volunteering certain information about my disability I saw a shift in the way my interviews went. By alleviating some of the questions right off the bat I was able to paint myself in a brighter light showing what I was capable of and proving to employers that I am qualified and capable of doing the job despite my disability.
I think that when we address the situation head-on, we allow employers to make the decision whether or not to hire a candidate based on what they can do instead of what they think they cannot do. We start to change the perspective on what it means to have a disability. Instead of it being a limitation it becomes an advantage.
You know that you are capable of doing the work. I have the confidence in your abilities, yet sometimes it’s a matter of proving to an employer what is possible.
If knowledge truly is power, I’m going to walk into my interviews with my head held high and feel comfortable sharing the information about my disability. I want to give an employer as much fuel as possible so that there is no doubt in their mind that I am the best candidate for the job. When you have the confidence to address your challenges, you have the ability to put your best foot forward. Disclosing your disability gives you that opportunity too.
The top 10 benefits of disclosing your disability
- Addressing the elephant in the room – By alleviating some of the questions right off the bat I was able to show employers that I am qualified and capable of doing the job despite my disability.
- Filling a need- A lot of employers are looking to hire people with disabilities
- Confidence is key – show an employer that you are comfortable talking about your disability
- Stand out – candidates want to I stand out among the crowd as the best fit
- Thinking outside of the box – you bring a different set of tools to the team, new perspectives = new opportunities
- Educate – When we address the situation head-on, we start to change the perspective on what it means to have a disability.
- Find out now – You don’t want to work for a company that does not value you as an important member of society.
- Make a great first impression – When you have the confidence to address your challenges, you have the ability to put your best foot forward.
What are your thoughts on disclosing that you have a disability to a potential employer?