Searching for a new job can be a stressful, anxiety-inducing process for anyone. If you’re one of the 61 million U.S. adults (26% of the population) who suffers from a disability, a job search can be even more complex and worrisome.
Are you legally required to share information about your disability in the first place? Can employers opt to pass over your candidacy due to a disability? When is the best time to disclose your disability during the application and interview process? How specific do you have to get?
These are just some of the questions that might be passing through your mind as you think about applying for your next job.
Luckily, being prepared is half the battle. By doing your due diligence and researching what you can expect during the process, you can take some of the pressure out of applying for a job with a disability.
What types of disability forms will I come across during my job search?
The most common disability form you’ll encounter during your job search is the Voluntary Self-Identification of Disability form issued by the Office of Management and Budget.
Any company that does business with the government is required to provide equal employment opportunities for those with disabilities, so they ask — but do not require — applicants to fill out this form.
In a nutshell, this form explains the reasoning behind requesting the information, tells you which conditions qualify as disabilities, and gives you three options for answers:
- Yes, I have a disability or have a history/record of having a disability
- No, I don’t have a disability or a history/record of having a disability
- I don’t wish to answer
Do I need to disclose my disability in the first place?
When the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law in 1990, it became illegal for employers to discriminate against hiring qualified individuals due to mental or physical disability.
On top of that, the ADA also requires employers to make “reasonable accommodations” to ensure that qualified individuals with disabilities can perform effectively at work (e.g., putting in a wheelchair ramp to access an office building).
The first thing you need to know is that you are not legally required to disclose your disability status to a potential employer. That said, if you aren’t up front about it, the employer won’t have to make reasonable accommodations to ensure you can work productively.
It’s also worth noting that you might not be required to get into the specifics of your condition — which might give candidates who don’t want to be associated with the stigma of their disability peace of mind. While the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) hasn’t issued formal guidance on whether employers can ask for the precise diagnosis, some states, including California and Connecticut, do not allow companies to ask for detailed information about your medical history.
Despite the legal protections that exist (more on this in a bit), it’s perfectly understandable why someone with a disability might hesitate to disclose that information. All other factors the same, might an employer opt to hire a candidate with a disability or one without a disability? It’s a very valid concern.
Before we take a look at some of the scenarios where it makes sense to disclose your condition, let’s take a step back and examine your legal rights as a jobseeker with a disability.
Legal protection for jobseekers with disabilities
If you’re qualifed for the job you’re applying for and you have a disability, the ADA protects you from getting passed over due to discrimination. Qualification includes having the requisite education, experience, and skill set needed to excel in the position — and the ability to perform the job responsibilities, with or without accommodation.
This means that employers cannot discriminate against you during the recruiting, hiring, and training processes, and they also can’t discriminate against you when it comes to promotions, benefits, pay, and job assignments.
During the interview process, employers are also not allowed to ask you questions about your medical history or health, whether you’ve filed workers’ comp claims, or whether you have disabilities. They can, however, ask questions about whether you are able to perform job responsibilities with reasonable accommodation.
When is the best time to disclose a disability?
When it comes to disclosing your disability to a prospective employer, there’s no such thing as the perfect time. Some people have found being up front about it from the get-go has worked well, and others say early disclosure isn’t the best move for everyone.
When it boils down to it, timing your disclosure is up to you. Generally speaking, if you’re going to disclose your disability, you’ll have three options:
- Before the interview – this could be ideal for candidates who have visible disabilities so the interview can focus entirely on qualifications and experience
- During the interview – mentioning your disability during an interview can demonstrate your confidence to prospective employers and reassure them that your condition does not impact your performance and ability to meet the responsibilities of the role
- After the interview – if you’ve got a job offer and haven’t disclosed your disability, now could be the best time, particularly if you’ll need accommodations
Keep in mind that, while the ADA prevents employers from asking questions about disabilities during the interview process, they are allowed to ask after they’ve extended a job offer — as long as they ask the same questions to other candidates offered similar positions.
Before you decide your strategy, spend some time researching the company to determine whether they have any public stance on hiring individuals with disabilities. In the age of diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives, many organizations are proactively searching for underrepresented candidates and putting forward proactive efforts to foster a sense of belonging for all. In this light, revealing your disability could result in floodgates of support opening up.
If you’re still feeling unsure, we highly recommend clicking into the pages linked in this piece, as they go into extensive detail about various scenarios and may provide more specific information for your condition.
Other resources to know
If you’re feeling down on your luck, remember that you are not alone. Here are some resources you might want to look into for additional support and information:
Here’s to landing your dream job however you ultimately decide to navigate the process. Don’t forget to check out other listings on the Hired blog to assist with getting you job ready.