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To Disclose or not to Disclose: That is the Question

You have a disability. Should you tell your potential employer? If so, when? On your resume? During the interview? After the offer has been made? Never? Only you can answer these questions. Disclosing a disability is a very personal decision - one you must make on your own. Once you have researched the organization and position, the Career Center can help you assess the advantages and disadvantages of disclosing and develop a disclosure strategy.

The first question you must ask yourself is: "Is my disability visible or hidden?" If you have a visible disability (e.g., you use a wheelchair, have a guide dog, walk with crutches, etc.) you must decide whether you will mention your disability on your resume or before you go to an interview (once you get there your disability will be obvious). If you are concerned about accessibility, you may need to disclose in order to ensure that you will not have any problems getting to the interview site. Be prepared to address the employer's concerns regarding your abilities and know what specific accommodations you will need on the job.

If you have a hidden disability (e.g. dyslexia, ADD, learning disability), the disclosure issue is a much trickier one. It will not be obvious to the employer that you have a disability, so you will need to assess the job yourself - in light of your strengths and weaknesses - to determine if it is right for you. Ask yourself questions like: Is there a great deal of reading or writing involved? Will I have to perform mathematical calculations? Are there strict deadlines that must be met? Will I be expected to handle many different tasks at once? If these are areas where you have difficulty, consider the accommodations you would need to be successful. You may be able to address your concern during the interview without actually disclosing your specific disability.

So when is the best time to disclose? There are advantages and disadvantages to disclosing regardless of the timing. Your decision will be based on what you know about your own needs and abilities and what you have learned about the organization and the specific job requirements. There are nine different places during the process that you may choose to disclose:

In your resume, cover letter or job application Gets the issue out in the open and lets the employer decide if it would be a problem. Disabilities related to the position may be seen as a positive quality. You may be disqualified from the position before you have a chance to present your qualifications.
When an employer calls for an interview For visible disabilities: Reduces the "shock factor" when you arrive for the interview and addresses accessibility problems You may not get the interview, or if you do, you may not receive serious consideration.
During the interview Allows you to respond briefly and positively to specific disability issues. Discrimination is less likely face-to-face. Too much emphasis on your disability may indicate a possible problem. You want to be evaluated on your skills and abilities.
After the interview, before the offer While you are being honest with the interviewer, you have first had the opportunity to convince him/her of your abilities. Employer may feel you waited too long. You may unknowingly be discriminated against.
Through a reference Someone who knows you or has worked with you can give you a glowing recommendation. He/she may also discuss accommodation issues. The person serving as your reference needs to be knowledgeable about your disability and how it relates to the position. Consider asking the person to write a reference letter and give him/her a draft of what you'd like to be included in the letter.
After the offer, before acceptance If the disability changes the hiring decision, you may have legal recourse. Employer may feel you deceived him/her and this could cause distrust.
After you start work Allows you to prove yourself on the job. If disclosure affects your employment status, you may have legal recourse. Employers may accuse you of falsifying your application. You may have trouble deciding to whom you should disclose. Interactions with co-workers may change.
After a problem on the job You have had the opportunity to prove yourself on the job first. You may be perpetuating disability myths and misperceptions. It may be hard to reestablish trust with boss and co-workers. You may not have legal recourse.
Never If your disability has no impact on your ability to do the job, your employer may never have to know. You run the risk of being fired if there is a problem and your disability is discovered. You may not have legal recourse.
If you decide to disclose ... It's a good idea to develop a "disclosure script" ahead of time so you can clearly articulate your specific disability and accommodation needs. We strongly recommend that you discuss your thoughts with a career counselor and/or academic support staff member.

Adapted from: Aase and Smith, University of Minnesota Disability Services Career Development Course Sequence.

The Career Center, Muhlenberg College
2400 W. Chew Street, Allentown, PA 18104-5586
Ph: (484) 664-3170    Fax: (484) 664-3533

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Last Revised March 25, 2008
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