Do You Need to Disclose a Disability in a Job Interview?

By Adrian Johansen

Living with a disability shouldn't be a hurdle to a meaningful career. Yet, it is not unusual to feel as though you need to be cautious about disclosing to potential employers. This may be through concerns about conscious or unconscious bias in hiring decisions. It could also simply be the case you don't feel it's relevant to the position you're applying for.

The strict truth of the matter is in many cases there is no legal obligation for you to talk about your experiences with disability. However, there can certainly be some compelling reasons to do so.

We're going to dive a little deeper into the matter. In what circumstances should you seriously consider disclosing a disability during an interview and what might be the best way to approach such discussions?

Disability and potential employers

Role Suitability

Living with any form of disability doesn't necessarily make you immediately unsuitable for a role. However, you are likely already aware it can make certain activities more challenging to navigate. As such, this is where it can be wise to make some of the details of a disability part of the discussion during a job interview. Remember, this isn't about giving your interviewers the power to decide whether your condition makes you suitable for the role. It's about having a deeper conversation and establishing difficulties and solutions.

You can be most effective by getting a head start here. Prepare for the job interview by considering the duties of the role. Pinpoint the aspects that, from your experience, you feel you could find more difficult to perform. Even highlighting areas of uncertainty can make valuable talking points during your interview. Your goal here is to prepare. Put yourself in a position of strength and knowledge to discuss your relationship to the role on an equal footing with the interviewer.

Indeed, it can be wise to begin this process at the time of application. It's important to provide the most relevant and impressive version of your resume from the outset. Ordinarily, this might include tailored skills descriptions and appropriate references. This can also serve your role suitability discussions. Make sure you include examples of work history to show you've overcome challenging elements to achieve results. Include references to past employers or mentors who can speak to your adaptability and resilience.

These elements can provide you with helpful talking points during your interview. You can use examples of where disability has had a difficult impact but you've been able to navigate the challenges. Refer to the subjects of your references when providing anecdotes about ways you've adapted through your experiences. You can even suggest the use of technology that helps make your work easier and more efficient for your unique needs. Approach such discussions as invitations for your interviewer to engage with you on the subject of overcoming the difficulties of the role rather than seeing your condition as a problem.

Accommodation Requirements

One of the best reasons to discuss your disability in an interview is to gain access to reasonable accommodations. This doesn't make you any less of an independent and capable professional. Rather, it's about working alongside your potential employer to identify the support you need to make sure you can apply your talents safely and effectively.

Accommodation Requirements at work

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), it is unlawful for an employer to ask you questions about your disability or refuse to hire you because you live with a disability or because you require accommodations. Really, the only reason an employer can give to refuse accommodations is that these would in some way jeopardize the business. However, it can make a good impression during the interview if you have already reviewed the fine points of the role and ascertained potential appropriate tools or adjustments.

Don't just consider accommodations for in-person jobs, either. Remote work has become a prevalent part of the commercial landscape and is directly influencing other aspects of employment. More businesses are adopting fully digital models and even customer service roles require workers to utilize various methods of consumer contact. Will your potential employer need to provide you with adaptive technology to use certain remote software? Do extended periods of isolation exacerbate a mental health condition? These are aspects worth making part of the interview discussion.

While the ADA requires employers to make accommodations, it's important not to approach these as demands during an interview. Rather, talk about your thought process in the accommodation possibilities you've outlined. Discuss how these can support you in being a more productive and innovative team member.

Expectation Setting

A job interview can be quite an agile tool when used correctly. It's not just about establishing suitability for a role or cultural fit. It's also good for setting expectations for your relationship with the company should you move forward to employment. This can be a reason to disclose a disability, too.

Setting expectations about work

At the most basic level, it shows you're comfortable with talking about your challenges. This demonstrates a significant amount of trust on your behalf. It sets expectations that you are willing and keen to be communicative with your employers not just on this issue but a variety of others. You send a positive message by talking about your experiences with disability in this manner.

It can also set expectations about any impact on business operations. If you occasionally need to take mental health days or have to shift your schedule due to regular medical appointments, these aren't necessarily deal-breakers. Nevertheless, talking about this during the interview can set expectations for the employer's need to adopt a certain amount of flexibility occasionally. In turn, they can make the appropriate adjustments beforehand and even build your needs into your schedule where possible.

There are few occasions where disclosing a disability is an obligation. However, it's important to recognize where this can be advantageous. It can help ascertain elements of role suitability, pinpoint access to the right accommodations, and set expectations for you and your potential employer. The key is in how you frame such aspects, though. Make sure you prepare thoroughly and aim for these talking points to be empowering discussions.

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