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Disclosing a Disability : Disability sub-module 3 of 5

“Disclosure” is the act of making your disability known to others. You might have concerns or questions about disclosing your disability. There are two primary things to remember about disclosing your disability:

  • Disclosure is an important and personal choice. You are the one who decides if, how, and when you would like to disclose. Don’t feel pressured by outside sources; make sure to make the decision that will be best suited to you.
  • Disclosure is not one-size fits all. There is no one right way or right time to disclose your disability. When, what, and how you disclose is entirely based on your individual circumstance and it will look different for everyone. Use your discretion based on your current situation.

Use the information on this page to reflect on whether or not you’d like to disclose, when in the employment process you want to disclose, and what you might say should you choose to disclose.

Deciding Whether to Disclose

The choice to disclose is yours; however, self-reflection can be helpful when making your decision. When deciding whether or not to disclose your disability, you should consider the following questions:

  • Is your disability visible or non-visible? If your disability is visible, you may feel inclined to address it head on; however, if it’s not visible you may decide not to disclose.
  • Do you know the essential requirements of the job?
  • Will your disability impact your ability to perform in an interview and complete the essential elements of the job?
  • Will you need accommodations on the job to be successful?
  • Without accommodations in the workplace, is your safety or the safety of others at risk?
  • Are you confident in framing your disability as an asset and articulating your strengths to an employer?
  • Have you disclosed your disability in the past? What was the reaction you received? How did that make you feel? What did you learn?
  • Do you think your employer will understand your disability? If not, are you prepared to explain it?
  • What do you know about this employer’s policies and experiences regarding people with disabilities?
  • Have you practiced disclosing your disability? Have you created a script to help you practice?
  • Will disclosing your disability help you reach your goal of getting work?

If you weren’t able to answer these questions, take some time to think more about them and consider reaching out to someone to discuss them, such as your campus career services or disability office.

Deciding When and How to Disclose

When to Disclose

There are many possible times where you can disclose your disability to your employer. If you’re not sure when to disclose, read the information below. It outlines some of the advantages and disadvantages of disclosing your disability at different times throughout the job search process, which you can use for help deciding when to disclose, if you choose to do so.

Consider the advantages and disadvantages:

  • Advantages: This may allow you to be considered for a job under a company's employment equity program (e.g. federal government).
  • Disadvantages: The employer may make inappropriate assumptions that impact their decision to hire you. You may have uncertainty about the reasons for not being selected or may not have the opportunity to explain or describe your accommodation needs.

Questions to consider:

  • Can you present information about your disability in a succinct way?
  • Do you know whether the company has a good reputation for employment equity?

Recommended when: Your disability is seen as an advantage, i.e. when there is an employment equity program in place.

Consider the advantages and disadvantages:

  • Advantages: If you need an accommodation, both you and the employer will be better prepared for the interview.
  • Disadvantages: The employer may make inappropriate assumptions that impact their decision to hire you.

Question to consider:

  • Do you need an accommodation in order to be successful in your interview?

Recommended when: You require an accommodation for your interview.

Consider the advantages and disadvantages:

  • Advantages: It allows you to highlight your skills and qualifications, address disability concerns and questions directly, and demonstrate to the employer that you’re able to do the job. It allows you to raise relevant job, training, and accommodation issues in a positive way.
  • Disadvantages: The employer may focus on your disability rather than on your ability to do the job or may make inappropriate assumptions that impact their decision to hire you. You will need to be an effective advocate at a stressful time. You may feel defensive and have to deal with prejudices on the part of the interviewers.

Questions to consider:

  • Can you present your strengths and needs for accommodations in a clear, positive way?
  • Do you understand how your skills, strengths and accommodation requirements relate to the demands of the job?

Recommended when: You are able to confidently focus on your skills and abilities and are comfortable explaining your disability needs.

Consider the advantages and disadvantages:

  • Advantages: It gives you the opportunity to discuss your accommodation needs and find out who the best person to approach is. It allows for more appropriate onboarding, and allows the employer to determine if your disability impacts health and safety issues.
  • Disadvantages: The employer may react poorly or feel you should have told them before the hiring decision was made. The employer may withdraw the job offer if your accommodation needs are seen as complex or onerous.

Questions to consider:

  • Do you know enough about the job duties to know if you will require accommodations?
  • Do you know your legal rights under these circumstances?

Recommended when: Your disability is not visible, and you don’t require any accommodations. In this case, you could also choose not to disclose your disability.

Consider the advantages and disadvantages:

  • Advantages: It allows you to prove your capabilities on the job before disclosing. It allows you to have a feel for the best timing and process for disclosure. It also allows you to identify potential allies among your fellow employees.
  • Disadvantages: You may feel nervous about what people think of you if they don't understand disability. You may worry that any difficulty, however minor, will be attributed to your disability. People may be reluctant to ask you to do things. It may change your work relationships.

Questions to consider:

  • When, what and whom do you tell?
  • To what extent does stress influence your performance at work, and will you feel more or less stressed if you disclose?

Recommended when: You need accommodations to do your job, not disclosing is causing you unnecessary stress, or there are problems or concerns with your work performance or coworkers.

Consider the advantages and disadvantages:

  • Advantages: You have already proven yourself on the job. You have likely established some positive working relationships with your supervisor and fellow employees. You have a better understanding of company policies and practices.
  • Disadvantages: You may have a performance issue at work. You may hurt your work relationships, since your employer or coworkers may view you as dishonest. You may feel guilty, which could add to your stress and damage your performance further. You may contribute to negative stereotypes and attitudes.

Questions to consider:

  • Can you present the necessary information at this stage and still avoid defensiveness?
  • Is this the situation that led you to resign in a previous job?
  • As difficulties begin to appear, should you approach your supervisor and disclose your disability or should you wait a while, hoping that things will smooth over?

Recommended when: Problems or concerns at work persist. Be prepared to educate your employer and coworkers about your disability. Ask for help and rely on your support system.

Consider the advantages and disadvantages:

  • Advantages: You will not have to explain your disability. The employer and your coworkers may not automatically assume work-related issues are associated with your disability.
  • Disadvantages: Your employer and coworkers will not become more aware or educated about the benefits and value of hiring and working with persons with disabilities.

Questions to consider:

  • Does disclosure of your disability have any impact on your ability to do your job?
  • Would you feel more or less comfortable at work if people knew about your disability?

Recommended when: Your disability is invisible, and you don’t require any accommodations.

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How to Disclose

Planning and preparing for your disclosure conversation can give you a sense of empowerment. If you decide to disclose your disability, you might wonder, “How will I say it? And to whom will I say it?” These are great questions! Watch the video and read the information below for some steps that will help you prepare to disclose your disability.

You can also use this checklist to help you plan your disclosure:

Answer the following questions to get started:

  • What strengths and abilities do you have that relate to the position you are applying for?
  • What challenges or limitations do you have that are either related to the job you are applying for or the job you are already doing?
  • What are the job duties that could be difficult to perform?
  • Are there strategies, tools or accommodations you have used in the past that have allowed you to perform certain duties more successfully?

If you’re having trouble identifying your strengths, limitations, and accommodation needs, the following resources can help:

Using your answers to the questions above, develop a disclosure script.

Remember to do the following:

  • Frame your disability as an asset.
  • Highlight your abilities
  • Clearly state your limitations and needs. Use caution when speaking about your limitations; speak only about your limitations related to the job. 

You don’t have to name your disability; however, if you feel comfortable talking about it more directly you can include it. You can use the following templates to prepare your own script.

You can use the template document as a starting point for your own script:

Template 1

“I have/am (highlight your strengths/skills/abilities/qualifications relevant to the job) and can perform the essential functions of this job, but sometimes (mention your limitations) might impact my ability to (describe the duties you may have difficulty performing). I work best when (describe the specific accommodations you need to support the duties you have difficulty performing).”

Template 2

“Although I don’t anticipate any problems, I did want to mention that I have (preferred term for your disability). I know that my (one or two strengths) will allow me to excel in this position, however sometimes (indicate your limitations) might interfere with my ability to (describe the duties you may have difficulty performing). In the past, I have found that I can overcome this issue with (describe specific accommodations you need).”

An example of a disclosure script

“I am an extremely detail-oriented worker and a skilled communicator who can perform the essential functions of this job, but sometimes my limited motor skills impact my ability to type quickly. This may affect how efficient I am when taking notes, writing reports and documenting meeting minutes. I work best when I am able to use speech recognition software, such as Dragon. This worked really well for me and my employer in my last job.”

Once you have created your script, practice your disclosure on your own or with trusted friends or family members.

Once you’re comfortable, approach a trusted source, such as your manager or a human resources professional. They will respect the privacy of your information and be able to direct you to the right sources if you are seeking an accommodation.

If you do require an accommodation, request your accommodation in writing and invite your manager or human resources Manager to discuss it further. Be open and willing to collaborate with your employer on your accommodation needs.

For more tips on disclosing a mental health disability or concern, visit the Canadian Mental Health Association’s Navigating Disclosure What employees need to know resource - opens in a new window.

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