When, and If, to Disclose Your Disability to an Employer
It can be difficult to decide whether or not to tell a potential employer about your disability, especially for young workers. For many who don’t share this information during the interview process, once hired the problem becomes deciding when, or if, to reveal a disability after being hired.
The workplace is improving for people with disabilities — better at recognizing and providing accommodations, accessibility, and equality. But there are still challenges, and these can seem especially daunting to young people just entering the workforce for their first jobs, co-ops, and internships.
Deciding whether and when to disclose your disability is a personal decision, and will be different for everyone. However, there are some common considerations.
Will your disability affect your work? If so, how much?
Many disabilities, both visible and non-visible, won’t affect your ability to do the job at all. If there is some effect, you may just need some form of accommodation to still be able to perform. In deciding when and if to disclose your disability, you should consider the work you do, any changes that will occur, and your relationship with your employer.
If your disability has no significant impact on your ability to work, you can choose not to disclose and simply continue to work as usual. However, if there is a point where you believe your work will be affected, it can be beneficial to inform your employer of what you will need from them, whether it’s a flexible schedule, additional breaks or adaptive equipment.
Safety is also a consideration, both for yourself and for others in the workplace. If you require accommodations or increased accessibility in order to avoid strain or injury, then it may be in everyone’s best interest for you to discuss your needs with your employer.
What is your company’s history with employees who have a disability?
One factor in whether to disclose or not can be how your employer has handled workers with disabilities in the past. If you have a good relationship with your immediate supervisor, it can be easier to broach the discussion about your disability, and ask about previous situations.
It is also worthwhile to note that when asking for accommodations, it is not required for you to disclose the details of your disability in full, only that you describe the accommodations you need and how they will enable you to work successfully.
What prejudices or stigmas are you concerned about facing?
A common reason young workers will hesitate to reveal a non-visible disability, or will have concerns about with a visible disability, is the possibility of experiencing prejudice from employers or co-workers.
You may be worried that your employer will believe you’re lazy because you need to take additional breaks for medication or to stretch. Or that your coworkers will think you can’t perform at the same level because you need assistive devices such as a screen reader, speech-to-text software, or a desk modified for accessibility.
Whether you’re concerned about harassment, being overlooked for promotion, denied the necessary accommodations, or otherwise treated differently due to your disability, it’s important to remember that Canada does have a Duty to Accommodate in the workplace, under the Canadian Human Rights Act.
This means that Canadian employers have a responsibility and obligation to provide all reasonable accommodations for someone to perform a job. Familiarizing yourself with your rights under the Act will help you recognize acceptable and unacceptable employment conditions, and how to handle discussing them with your employer.
Exactly when and how you decide to disclose your disability will be dependent on your individual situation, and is a decision that you should be sure to put some thought into. If you are unsure, it can help to discuss your concerns with an impartial third party, such as an employment counselor, legal advocate, or friends and family with varied work experiences. You can also speak to other people you know who have a disability, and ask them about their experiences disclosing their disability at work.
Showing your employer and coworkers that your disability doesn’t prevent you from performing the work, and that people with disabilities are just as capable, is doing your part to combat these incorrect prejudices, which will make it easier for others in the future.