How to Disclose a 'Disability' During Your Job Search
"Disabled" is a broad term tha t refers to about 20 percent of Americans, says the Census Bureau. If you're one of them, you want to be smart, yet ethical, in how you handle information about your disability during a job search. In Fortune, Anne Fisher provides some insight. In addition, the disability issue requires you approach disclosure, if any, with common sense. Remember, employers are not your medical doctors. Candor can be used against you.
The reality is this, of course: It's very tough to land a job. Yes, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 [ADA], exists to protect the disabled from discrimination. The ADA requires employers to make a reasonable accommodation for the disabled. But, the number of ADA-related complaints to the Equal Opportunity Commission indicates employers might not be in total compliance with the letter or spirit of the law. In 2009, a record 21,500 complaints were filed.
How you approach this depends primarily on whether your particular disability is "visible" or "invisible." Sight impairment is an example of a visible one. By law, employers can't ask questions about the medical condition. You can introduce it, though, if you sense that will give you an edge or clear up some questions that may be hovering over the hiring process. You can frame that discussion about being, say, legally blind, in terms of accommodations in previous workplaces. You would use that as a platform to present your track record for accomplishments on other jobs.
An invisible disability, such as fibromyalgia or clinical depression, requires you make a critical judgment call, especially if your medical condition had been a negative factor in your ability to perform previously at work. Were there any accommodations instituted by you in a stealth manner or by your employer once you disclosed the condition? If so, you may need to share this information to avoid a repeat. On the other hand, if your disability was manageable, then there's no functional or ethical reason to bring it up during a job search. Once you have the job, then you can play it by ear -- that is, tactically -- what you feel necessary or useful to disclose.
You can download a free guide by Ernst & Young on issues related to disabilities in the workplace.