Disclosing Your Disability in the Employment Process
by Cynthia Thomas, Counselor, Supervisor, UCLA Career Center
In presenting workshops on resume writing, interviewing, and other job search strategies, I am encountering an increased number of inquiries from students regarding how they should or could talk about their disabilities during the various stages of the employment process. "Do I need to indicate on my resume that I am hearing impaired even though I read lips well and don't need an interpreter?" one student asked. Another student, who used crutches said, When I go for the interview, they can see that I have a disability, so I never even mention it. Is that okay?" Confused and worried, another student admitted, "I have no idea what I should say about my learning disability."
The American Disabilities Act (ADA) provides for the protection from discrimination of qualified candidates with disabilities who can, with or without reasonable accommodation, perform the essential functions of the position. Under the ADA, the employer only has the obligation to make "reasonable accommodations" for known disabilities.
Maybe you have not thought about the issue of disclosing before or perhaps you have agonized about it for many hours. Either way, the goal of this article is to acquaint you with some of the key issues surrounding this matter and to encourage you to seek more information.
Whether or not you should disclose information about your disability in the employment process varies from situation to situation. There is no one right answer. Even though it depends on the individual circumstances of the case, there are some important considerations for you to keep in mind when you make the decision.
The bottom line question should be: Does disclosing this information at this time and in this way bring me closer to getting the job offer and getting the appropriate accommodation(s) I need to perform the essential functions of the job?
If your disability has any bearing on your ability to do the job or needing an accommodation in the workplace, it is advisable to mention it at some point in the job search process. This is extremely important because under the ADA guidelines, employers only have to make reasonable accommodations for known disabilities. If your disability is visible, you might think that you don't have to mention the disability because it is apparent to the potential employer and shouldn't make any difference. That's true to some extent; however, it is important for you to realize that even though employers are prohibited from asking you about your disability, they may be curious or even a little uncomfortable about your disability. Your disclosing appropriate information eases any misgivings or nagging doubts and also answers unspoken questions which the potential employer may have about your ability to perform the job. In addition, especially if you have a hidden disability, disclosing appropriate information may give you a sense of openness, honesty and peace of mind.
Depending on your disability, you determine when to disclose. Honesty and openness are important, however you may not need to disclose in the first interview or ever. Some considerations include: your need for reasonable accommodation(s), company's hiring practices, unexpected barriers, and a realistic time frame.
To learn more about these critical questions, pick up a copy of the guide Disclosing Your Disability in the Employment Process and/or review the related books located in the Career Center library.
If you would like this information in an alternative format, contact the Office for Students with Disabilities at (310) 825-1501 voice, (310) 206-6083 tty or (310) 825-9656 fax.