Although many students say to me that they’ve had a really positive experience of disclosing their disability to employers, others have told me about the negative experiences they’ve had. I’ve heard from people saying their prospective employer assumed that their condition would affect them far more than it actually does and were worried that they’d be taking time off work a lot. Some people have said that as soon as they say to an employer they have a disability, they feel like the employer is no longer interested.
These are some of the experiences that have made people feel they are better off not disclosing.
But before deciding to take that view, here are 3 things I’d encourage you to consider…
- Would you be able to do the job feeling more comfortable and less stressed with reasonable adjustments in place? Bear in mind that from an employer’s point of view, the adjustments that they would be making for you in the workplace could well be minor ones. Commonly, employers already have the infrastructure in place for adjustments like workplace pre-visits, flexible working policies, specialised chairs / keyboards. Is it worth struggling in your new workplace if you could be much happier and more settled with a few, small adjustments being put in place?
- Some people don’t disclose because they feel that their disability won’t have any impact on their ability to do the job so decide not to say anything as they don’t require adjustments. That may well be the case when you start the job but it is well worth considering that:
- Additional or different job duties can get added to your job role
- From time to time, conditions such as your place of work or working hours might also change
- Some people have good and bad days with their disability meaning that a few weeks or months into their job they might require some flexibility or adjustments that they hadn’t anticipated
For all of the above scenarios, if you don’t disclose initially but decide to later on, it could be harder to ask for the adjustments or support you need, retrospectively.
An employer could also feel you weren’t open and clear with them about having a disability and how that disability affects you. This can leave employers and co-workers with a sense of distrust.
3. Disability is a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010. This means that employers can’t put disabled applicants or disabled workers at a substantial disadvantage and treat them unfairly. In terms of reasonable adjustments, employers have to take ‘such steps as it is reasonable’ to help reduce or remove the disadvantage a disabled applicant or disabled worker is facing.
- These legal protections don’t always come in to play if you choose not to disclose. Conversely, if you do disclose and are subsequently discriminated against, then that is unlawful (though this can be difficult to enforce – useful resources are available should you feel that you have been discriminated against)
- Not disclosing also means you wouldn’t have the reasonable adjustments you may need during the application process itself, at the interview or in the job role
Choosing to disclose has disadvantages and advantages and is a personal decision. Understandably, many people are hesitant to disclose because they’ve had previous bad experiences or have fears about doing so.
Employers ought to be taking positive and proactive steps to make sure their company / workplace is not putting in place any physical and attitudinal barriers. That said, employers can be a little daunted and unsure what different disabilities actually are and how to support disabled people with certain disabilities.
To help with this, if you do choose to disclose, 3 steps to follow are:
- Understand what the disability you have is (disability-specific charities have clear definitions for many types of disabilities)
- Think about how the disability affects you but…focus on how your disability would have an impact on you in the job role. Consider what it is that helps you to perform to the best of your ability (this will shape the reasonable adjustments you will ask for)
- Lastly, think about what particular strengths your disability has given you
Be able to articulate this in a clear, personalised ‘disclosure paragraph’ (this paragraph can be written or said verbally). Don’t worry if what you write or say is more than one paragraph.
Following these steps will mean that the employer will be more informed. It will help to diminish misconceptions and to reduce barriers that you might otherwise face.
Edmund Lewis, AGCAS Disability Task Group, University of Westminster