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Disclosing a Disability At Work | Getting Hired
Living with a disability is by no means easy, but the challenges can be particularly significant when that disability is not immediately visible to others. Determining whether or not to disclose your disability at work may be one of the most important, and also one of the most difficult, decisions you can make as you strive to manage your disability effectively.
As you weigh the pros and cons of self-disclosure, it’s important to remember that you’re under no legal or moral obligation to reveal your condition to your employer or colleagues. However, there may be some significant benefits to you in doing so. This article explores the potential advantages and disadvantages of disclosing your invisible disability at work and describes some key considerations to keep in mind as you make your decision.
Potential Benefits of Disclosure
When you have a disability that isn't visible, it can be tempting to try to “pass.” You may prefer to keep your condition under wraps to avoid potential ramifications, such as stigmatization or unconscious biases. You may fear, for example, that your employer or colleagues may perceive you as less competent or reliable due to your disability and that this may negatively impact your work relationships or your career progression.
The reality, however, is that self-disclosure can yield a number of rewards for you, your colleagues, and the overall culture of the workplace. For instance, discussing your condition with your employer can make it easier for you to access the accommodations to which you are entitled under the terms of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). For example, if you are neurodivergent and have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), for example, your job duties leave you vulnerable to overstimulation or other condition-specific challenges while on the job; disclosing to your employer can help you collaborate on effective accommodations.
Working with children, for instance, can present a unique constellation of difficulties for persons who have sensory processing disorders. However, by coordinating with your employer, you can develop a strategy that will enable you to care for your own needs while also caring for the children under your watch. This might include the provision of an assistant to oversee the children when you need a few moments of quiet to decompress.
The Organizational Benefits of Self-Disclosure
When you reveal your condition at work, you’re not only invoking the legal protections you drive and enhancing your access to the accommodations you may need, but you are also improving the overall culture of your workplace.
Companies that prioritize diversity and inclusion are more profitable and productive than those that don’t. When an organization proves safe, welcoming, and supportive for employees with disabilities, they help to alleviate fears of discrimination and bias in workers who may be experiencing physical or mental health challenges. And this means that employees are more likely to reach out for help when they need it which, in turn, leads to healthier, happier, and more loyal workers and more unified and supportive teams.
The Risks of Disclosure
For all the potential benefits of self-disclosure when you have an invisible disability, there are potential downsides. Not all company cultures are created equal, after all. Toxic work environments do exist, even in the most sophisticated and technologically advanced companies. If your company is one in which a “villainous culture” prevails, then disclosure is probably not going to be in your best interests.
It’s important to remember, though, that you cannot be fired because you have revealed that you have a disability. Nevertheless, if your work environment is a deeply negative one, you may find that remaining with your current employer does more harm than good. In that case, you may do well to find another position, ideally one that actively seeks to employ persons with disabilities.
Making a Plan
If you decide to disclose your disability, the first thing you need to do is determine how and to whom. Are you comfortable with discussing your condition openly with your employer and colleagues? Or do you prefer to keep your condition confidential, revealing it only to your employer? If you choose to do the latter, remember that your employer is legally obligated to protect your privacy, and can only discuss your condition with essential personnel and others you designate.
When you have an invisible disability, choosing whether or not to disclose your disability at work can be difficult. There are decided advantages to self-disclosure, including the opportunity to access necessary accommodations and other legal protections. Disclosure can also help to create a more inclusive company culture. The key is to remember that you are under no moral or legal obligation to disclose your condition. It is ultimately up to you to determine what is best for your needs.
Are you looking for a new role? Check out some of the awesome opportunities from our inclusive employer partners with disability initiatives here!
Ainsley Lawrence is a freelance writer from the Pacific Northwest. She is interested in better living through technology and education. She loves traveling to beautiful places and is frequently lost in a good book.