When and How to Disclose a Disability to Employers

When and How to Make a Disclosure of Disability While Looking for a Job

By Anne Shaw and professionally reviewed by The Hartford's Vocational Rehabilitation Team

If you’re searching for a job and have a disability, you’ll need to decide whether to disclose your disability to potential employers. The first step is to know your rights.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the related Amendments Act (ADAAA) of 2008, employers must follow two main requirements:

  1. They cannot discriminate against applicants or employees with mental or physical disabilities.
  1. They must provide reasonable accommodations if an employee or job candidate has a disability.

While these laws also make it illegal for employers to ask job candidates whether they have a disability, some candidates still choose to make a disclosure of a disability. That’s because disclosing a disability is sometimes required to receive reasonable accommodations.

If you’re wondering whether you should disclose, your decision may hinge on whether you need accommodations while interviewing or on the job. We hope the guidance below helps you determine what’s right for you.

Step 1 – Should You Disclose a Disability?

Deciding whether and when to disclose a disability is a personal choice. Start by considering two things:

  1. Whether not disclosing will make the application and interview process more difficult for you.
  1. If you’ll need any reasonable accommodations to interview for and perform the job.

If you do not have a visible disability and won’t need any accommodations to perform the job, then you may decide there’s no reason to disclose your disability. To determine this, carefully read the job description and ask yourself whether any of the responsibilities or tasks would require accommodations.

Keep in mind that if you do not make a disclosure of disability to an employer, then they are not required to make reasonable accommodations. So, if you need an accommodation either during the interview process or while on the job, it may be in your best interest to disclose. Doing so at the appropriate time may help you develop a proactive plan that sets you up for success.

If you decide that you’ll need reasonable accommodations during the interview process or after you get the job, the next step is deciding when to disclose.

Step 2 – Decide When to Disclose a Disability

Deciding when to disclose starts with determining when you’ll need accommodations. Will you need them during the interview process or only after you get the job? Remember that you can disclose at any time during the application and interview processes or at any time once employed. This means that you get to determine the right time to disclose based on your needs. For instance, if you do not need any accommodations related to the interview but will need them to perform the job, then you can wait until you’ve received a job offer to disclose.

Read on for more details about appropriate times to make a disclosure of disability while looking for a job and some tips on what you can say when you first disclose.

Disclosing on the Job Application

You do not need to disclose a disability on your job application or resumé. Plus, it’s illegal for employers to ask candidates whether they have a disability on job application forms. So, if your application form asks about disabilities, you can leave that part blank. If you choose not to disclose on your job application, you still may do so later in the interview process – and that’s within your rights.

*If you are a member of an organization related to people with disabilities, you still may include this information on your resumé, especially if you have held leadership positions.

Disclosing Pre-interview

Some people choose to disclose their disability after they’ve been invited for an interview. For instance, if you need an accommodation such as a sign language interpreter or wheelchair accessibility, then you should disclose those details while scheduling the interview. Keep it positive and matter of fact. You can say something like, “I’m so excited to learn more about this position. I use a wheelchair, which won’t prohibit me in any way from doing the job. I just want to plan ahead – Is there a particular entrance that I should use?” This will give the employer appropriate notice to make necessary arrangements prior to your interview. If they handle it particularly well, be sure to acknowledge this in your thank you note.

Disclosing During the Interview

If you do not need a reasonable accommodation for the interview, then you do not need to disclose until you have a job offer in hand – and only if you choose to do so based on the need for reasonable accommodations on the job. To prepare for your interview, let’s touch on related interview questions employers can and cannot ask.

Per the ADA, employers cannot ask about health or disabilities during job interviews. This includes questions like:

  • “What’s your medical history?”
  • “Do you have any disabilities or mental health conditions?”
  • “How’s your health?”
  • “How often do you call in sick to work?”
  • “Have you ever gone to rehab?”

What they can ask is whether you’re able to perform the essential responsibilities of the job with reasonable accommodation. Your answer: Yes. You can add that you’ve never had any issues performing the work in your past roles.

Disclosing Upon a Job Offer

When you receive a job offer (congrats!), consider whether you’ll need reasonable accommodations to do the job. If you can self-accommodate your disability without impacting your work duties, then you don’t need to disclose it.

The best way to determine whether you’ll need accommodations is by considering the job’s tasks and responsibilities. If some form of accommodation would help you fulfill them more successfully, then you can disclose while accepting the job and make a proactive plan. This gives you a chance to educate your employer about your disability and to discuss how they can best empower you to perform the job.

Step 3 – Determine How to Disclose a Disability

If you plan to disclose your disability and have decided on the right time, begin to think about how you’d like to share the information. It’s okay to keep it brief. Your first disclosure of a disability doesn’t have to be the last conversation about it, so you don’t need to cover every detail or every possible scenario. Here some details you may choose to include when disclosing:

  • Your disability just a fact and can be dealt with in a straightforward way. It’s not a weakness and won’t stand in the way of your performance.
  • Outline ways that your disability has helped you. Perhaps you’ve learned to show more empathy for others or have developed a strong ability to overcome challenges.
  • Prepare to address any concerns an employer may have, including the types of accommodations you might need.
  • If possible, prepare by looking into the availability and funding options of the necessary accommodations.

Once you’ve planned what you’d like to say, consider practicing aloud until you’re comfortable. Remember that whether and when to make a disclosure of a disability to your employer is your choice. Once you’ve weighed the pros and cons of your situation and considered the accommodations you may need, then you can make the best decision for yourself and come up with a proactive plan for your prospective employer.

We hope you found this article helpful. Let us know in the comments below if you still have questions regarding disclosing your disability to potential employers.

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