In my work over the past 10 years as a Job Developer and Job Coach with individuals with disabilities and multi-barriers here at a JVS Toronto, I have observed that one of the most challenging aspects of the job search process for my clients is dealing with disclosure at the job interview. Not all disabilities are visible, and for job seekers dealing with challenges such as hearing or visual impairments, learning disabilities or mental illness, there are often questions about whether, how and when to disclose these to employers.
Employment specialists, Hoff, Gandolfo, Gold and Jordan (2000) point out that one of the most challenging aspects of dealing with an invisible disability is deciding when, or even whether, you should disclose, thereby identifying and giving details about your disability to a stranger in a job interview. There are pros and cons of disclosing during the job interview and the authors offer some information and suggestions to help you make that decision:
The risks of disclosing.
Analyzing the risk factors from the employer’s point of view is critical. If you disclose, you take a chance that you may not be hired, and that you may be labelled and face discrimination. Remember that unless your disability could put you or someone else at risk on the job, it is a matter of personal choice whether you tell an employer about it at all. If safety is an issue, you’ll need to disclose your disability at an appropriate time.
Think through these questions:
- If you do decide to disclose, will this information help or hurt your chances of getting or keeping the job?
- How will the interviewer react?
- If you have your disability under control, is there any reason to disclose?
- Do your coping strategies allow you to meet the job requirements?
- If you know you can’t perform some of the duties of the job description because of your disability, would disclosure help you get the job?
Benefits of disclosing.
If a company is regulated by government (like the banks, telecom and transportation), they will have employment equity requirements. These firms are often interested in diversity. They seek to recruit and hire candidates with disabilities. Therefore, it might be a good opportunity to disclose that you have a disability (you don’t need to mention what it is!) in an application, cover letter and/or the interview. Sometimes employers value your openness and how you overcome your disability.
I recommend engaging in-depth research on the company and employer in advance before making a decision to disclose. Also, remember that you may benefit from the accommodations that the employer could provide once they know. Information interviews, networking and finding a mentor in your field are strategies to learn as much as you can about the company and its culture.
Look for employers who focus on your abilities and potential.
Make sure your skills and experience are a good match for the role and that the work meets your needs. For example, if you like to work from home sometimes, apply to companies and organizations that offer this possibility. Figure out what you need to succeed at a job.
You can always disclose later.
If you decided to not disclose in an interview, the employer won’t know that you need accommodations. As soon as the job is offered, you could discuss accommodations with the employer; make sure you are clear and reasonable about the accommodations that you require, so you can be the best employee possible.
Disclose during the job interview.
Whether or not you decide to disclose, be concise and prepared to explain the gaps in your resume. For example, you can say something like: “for the last three years, I’ve been dealing with a medical issue, but it’s under control now and I’m ready to work.” Legally, the interviewer can only ask questions about your disability that relate directly to the requirements of the job (such as how much weight you can lift, or whether you can stand on your feet all day). However, according to Canadian and Ontario employment law, it is illegal to ask candidates about their disabilities.
- Hoff, D., Gandolfo, C., Gold, M., Jordan, M.: Demystifying Job Development, Training Resource Network (2000)
- Pimental, R. from www.millwright.com
Joanna Samuels B.Ed. (Adult Education), M.Ed., CMF, CTDP, RRP is a certified Life Skills Coach, and certified Personality Dimensions Facilitator who works at JVS Toronto as a Job Developer/Job Coach/Workshop Facilitator. Also, Joanna is a part-time instructor of employment counselling with people with disabilities at George Brown College.