Every individual with a disability must choose whether to share his or her disability-related information with an employer. The decision whether to disclose is complex, and there is no right or wrong answer.

Should the job seeker/worker tell the employer about his or her disability?

The risks and benefits in each situation need to be weighed, and there are many factors to consider. Here are a few major points to get started:

  • Is an accommodation needed during the application process, or on the job? (link to Accommodations and AT).

The American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects against discrimination by providing guidelines prohibiting employers from asking unnecessary questions about disability. If an accommodation request is made, however, disclosure may be indicated.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission offers an informative publication for job seekers, called The ADA: Your Rights as an Individual With a Disability.

  • Is the disability visible, or is it non-apparent?  Some level of disclosure may avoid misunderstanding or labeling, or may eliminate curiosity or unnecessary concern from employers or coworkers.
  • Other reasons one may want to disclose:
    • (s)he prefers to be honest with supervisor or team
    • (s)he has disclosed before, and it was helpful and comfortable
    • (s)he thinks people suspect, and so wants to tell
  • Reasons one may not want to disclose:
    • (s)he is a private person
    • people may treat him or her differently
    • once (s)he tells someone, can’t control whom else they tell
    • people may expect less of him or her
    • it is not relevant
    • it is difficult to discuss

Individuals who are receiving employment services from State Vocational Rehabilitation (link) and/or Community Rehabilitation Providers (link) should have ongoing discussions with their employment staff about disclosure decisions. They should agree on a plan for how the staff person will represent the job seeker to employers during job development, or how the job coach will explain his or her role to a supervisor or coworker at the new worksite. While professional counseling and advice may be indicated, the disclosure decision is ultimately up to the individual with a disability.

If disclosure is to happen, when and how will it occur?

Who will do the “disclosing?” What will be said? Who will be told?

Planning how and when to disclose information is important, and involves more personal decision-making. Here are some guiding tips:

  • Information should be related to job performance and presented in a positive way. Here are some examples:

“I want to let you know that Michael is very shy, and quiet when he meets new people. He may not come across well on an initial interview. But he has great janitorial skills     and is a hard working and reliable candidate. He warms up to others once he gets to know them.”

“During the interview, you explained that work was verbally assigned at a staff meeting. I find that I work best when instructions are both written and verbal. I have a disability that makes processing verbal information a challenge. Could you accommodate me by also putting my assignments in writing?”

  • Avoid labels or clinical description. This is generally not relevant or helpful information, and may confuse or scare the employer.
  • Timing of disclosure can be important. It may make sense to wait until the job offer. Or the information may be better received after the employer has had a chance to get to know the worker.
  • It is helpful to script out, and practice disclosure communication
  • Begin by telling only those who need to know. There are few situations where everyone needs to be involved.

For more information about disclosure considerations and strategies:

Date posted: May 23, 2012. Content created by The Institute for Community Inclusion at University of Massachusetts Boston. Last updated: March 21, 2018.

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