3 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Disclosing Disabilities to a Potential Employer

Preparing for the interview process is challenging for everyone. Paramount to all other aspects of an interview, are honesty and authenticity on the side of both the candidate and the employer. In the job search, the candidate is a product and the employer, a consumer. Candidates strive to sell themselves to employers as the best product for their needs and, as such, it is difficult for a job-seeker to offer information that they perceive may eliminate them from the candidate pool. There is no definitive answer for when and how to disclose to a potential employer that you may require accommodations in order to fulfill the position requirements, but there is a right way to approach the conversation.

Ask yourself these three questions, so you can identify the appropriate time during your conversations with employers to discuss the topic of disabilities and accommodations.

1. In what ways will my disability impact my job performance in this position?

Examine the job description for key words or phrases that may indicate the job requires a task that may present challenges for you. For example, if you would need to frequently represent the organization at trade shows, you could probably assume that you will need to be standing or moving around for long periods of time. If your disability might prevent you from doing so, understand what accommodation might need to be made by the employer and be prepared to articulate how that accommodation will not hinder you from carrying out your duties as any other employee could.

In this case, disclosing your disability to an employer is all about education. When you decide to talk to the employer about your needs, be ready to educate them on how the accommodation helps you be the best employee you can be for them. A responsible employee will help their employer understand that a disability does not hold them back, and is aware and knowledgeable about how to manage challenging work responsibilities with the provided accommodations. At the end of the day, if you are the right person for the job, an employer should readily offer you the tools to do your job well.

It is also important to be brutally honest with yourself with regards to your limitations and the position requirements, and ask yourself if accommodations will make your work comfortable, or just bearable. If you are a good fit for the job, accommodations should allow you to be comfortable in your work environment. You may also want to ask yourself if the accommodation will be effective in the long-term. Sometimes it is hard to see past immediate desire for a job, especially if you are nearing a deadline like graduation. Try not to let your want or need for a paycheck cloud your judgement and lead you into a situation where you may be uncomfortable on a regular basis.

2. What accommodations is the employer legally required to provide?

Oftentimes, fear of the unknown causes us to make poor decisions. Educate yourself on employment laws and know your rights regarding what you have a right to ask from your employer. Research reputable resources, like the ones below, which are provided for job seekers requiring accommodations. The Department of Labor even offers interactive tools to learn from employment law experts on common disability rights issues.

3. How is the interview process structured?

Understanding the progression of conversations with a potential employer may allow you to predict the best time to talk about your needs. If your first interview is a standard phone or video format, you may have no choice but to disclose a disability, if it affects your ability to interact. It would be difficult to conceal physical, hearing- or sight-related disabilities in these cases, so it is best to let them know you appreciate the opportunity to interview, but you will need an alternate format in which to do so.

Typically in the later stages of the hiring process, it is common for employers to ask if you foresee any challenges in performing the position in question. They are not prying for personal information or asking about disabilities, rather they want to be aware of anything that may cause an employee to underperform; just another way of asking what your strengths and weaknesses are. This could be your opening to introduce your accommodation requirements and, as with any personal challenge, it also allows you to highlight a complementary strength. Perhaps, you have trouble staring at a computer screen without a screen magnifier, but with that tool, your vision is enhanced and you are able to work diligently on computer-reliant tasks. Knowing yourself and how you can turn your challenge into a strength shows the employer your potential to be a hard-working and confident employee.

Hiding your need for accommodation until you start the job and begin struggling can only make you miserable 40 hours each week and potentially prevent you from doing your job as well as you otherwise could. When you’re not doing your best work and your employer doesn’t understand why, they could perceive your lack of stellar performance as laziness or chalk it up to a bad hire. Studies conducted by the West Virginia University Research Corporation have shown that employers frequently do not view accommodations as a factor in hiring, rather they report benefits in the form of increased productivity and employee retention after providing requested accommodations. Answer these questions, do your research, and prepare yourself for the inevitable conversation, so you can interview confidently and focus on your potential as an employee, not potential challenges.

Still not comfortable with the idea of disclosure? Check out these articles about people with a variety of mental, physical, and learning disabilities and how they disclosed their needs in various settings.

By Beth Wade
Beth Wade Assistant Director, Career & Professional Development