Difficulties of Disability Disclosure
By Emily Ladau
My wheelchair likes to make a grand entrance when I go into a room. It’s there, it’s large, and it’s up to me to show that I’m in charge. Having a visible mobility aid means that when I go to a job interview, I simply can’t avoid indirect disclosure about being disabled. My body takes care of disclosing for me, loud and clear.
However, disability is nuanced far beyond what meets the eye, whether it is a visible or non-visible disability. This can make navigating the disclosure of disability a complex or perhaps even intimidating process for both employees and employers. The key is to strike a balance. For employees, this means determining what, if anything, is necessary to share, and what can and should remain private. For employers, this means inquiring as to how an employee needs to be accommodated without requesting to know personal details that are irrelevant to the job.
The problem is that lines on either side are sometimes hazy and easily crossed. I learned this the hard way when I first began searching for jobs after graduating college. I applied for a teaching assistant position at a school for students with disabilities, thinking my personal experience with my disability would ultimately be a positive contribution to the classroom. Unfortunately, when I shared this in answer to one of the first questions asked during my preliminary phone interview, the conversation immediately went south. In this case, my conscious choice to disclose that I have a disability completely backfired, leading the employer to make assumptions that my disability would negatively impact my ability to be an effective teaching assistant – without even taking time to discuss my qualifications for the position.
I often think that when interviewing for the teaching assistantship, I didn’t have to disclose my disability in the first place. I choose to look back on that experience as a lesson I’ll always carry with me. Now, I make every effort to ensure that my qualifications speak louder than any preconceived notions. That is difficult, however, as my resumé lends itself to giving quite a few hints that I have a disability, since the vast majority of my work is centered on disability.
I’m lucky to find myself at a point in my career where not only am I not afraid to disclose my disability, but also I find it to be a personal selling point. For far too many people, though, this feeling of being comfortable discussing aspects of their disability in the workplace is nonexistent. For many, the mere thought of disclosure frequently brings about fear and raises uncertainties. Will an employer still hire someone if the job candidate is blind and requests screen-reading software to complete work? What if an employee tells a colleague about having a non-visible disability, such as ADHD or bipolar disorder? Will the employer find out and fire the employee? How about if someone uses a wheelchair and requests that hand rails be installed in the company restroom?
Not hiring or firing an employee for any of these types of reasons is illegal for entities covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act, and yet, the sad reality of the workforce is that discrimination like this continues to happen every day. The provision of reasonable accommodations to ensure employees with disabilities can do their jobs isn’t just the right thing to do; it’s legally required. Justice and equal treatment in the workplace is a right for every person with a disability. And beyond the law, including people with disabilities in the workforce adds depth, richness, and new ideas stemming from the life experiences we bring.
Of course, in bringing disability experience to the table, there’s a good chance some disclosure might happen, either during interviews or throughout the course of a job. Questions might come about from employers or other colleagues as work relationships and friendships develop. Because of this, it’s technically accurate for me to say I’ve had employers breach disclosure boundaries, but I know it was with no negative intent and I certainly wouldn’t call it an act of discrimination.
Usually, situations like these come from a place of genuine curiosity, concern, or the desire to help. As such, my general rule is to keep things fluid and open when it comes to disclosure. Share if you’re comfortable, but know that you’re never under any obligation to talk about aspects of your disability other than what relates specifically to reasonable accommodation needs. The most important thing to remember is that your disability cannot and should not ever be held against you in a place of work, and if it is, the law is on your side.
True progress, though, is found not in abiding by the law for the law’s sake, but in actual acceptance of disability. Disclosure should not be a reason to worry about one’s livelihood, but rather something that makes no difference to how an employer perceives an employee. Everyone brings a unique identity with them to work, and for people who are disabled, our disabilities are just one facet of who we are – at once a potential asset to the workplace and a trait that should never overshadow the value of the skills and experiences we have worked so hard to achieve.
Emily Ladau is a writer and disability rights activist whose passion is to harness the powers of language and social media as tools for people to become informed and engaged social justice advocates. She is the owner of Social Justice Media Services, which provides communications, outreach, and social media management services for disability-related organizations. Emily also maintains a blog, Words I Wheel By, as a platform to address discrimination and to encourage people to understand the experience of having a disability in more positive, accepting, and supportive ways. You’re welcome to connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.
The nTIDE Report from the Kessler Foundation and University of New Hampshire has come out with its March findings. For the sixth consecutive month, more people with disabilities are finding employment. Increasing from 24.6 percent in March 2014, the employment-to-population ratio is now 27.2 percent. Additionally, the labor force participation rate has gone up from 29.5 percent March of last year to 31.1 percent for March 2015.
Read the full report here.
The new Impact: Feature Issue on the ADA and People with Intellectual, Developmental, and Other Disabilities, from the Insititute on COmmunity Integration, University of Minnesota is now available online.
This issue marks the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) with articles by individuals with disabilities, families, advocates, service providers, researchers, and others talking about how the ADA has made a difference in their lives, the lives of their loved ones, and in our nation. At the same time, this Impact also focuses on ways in which the ADA hasn’t fully addressed a number of the barriers faced by people with intellectual and developmental disabilities as they seek equal opportunity and inclusion in their communities. By sharing this range of perspectives, this Impact issue encourages readers to both pause to celebrate the anniversary of the ADA as a turning point in our nation’s journey, and continue traveling toward that horizon of full inclusion we have yet to reach. View the pdf version of the issue here. Get the text version.
Complementing this issue of Impact included over 40 video clips on the Institute’s website, Self Advocacy Online. Here, individuals with disabilities talk about the ADA. View the Institute’s website and video clips
If you would like a complimentary print copy of this issue of Impact email the Institute’s Publication Office at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 612-624-4512.
President Obama announced a new initiative to make $100 million available through the Department of Labor to support moving lower skilled workers with barrriers to training and employment through fast paths to mid- to high- information technology jobs. This initiative, TechHire, will begin with 20 cities with over 150,000 technology jobs and 300 employer partners. The main features of TechHire includes increase access to training opportunities, employer engagement relating to accelerated learning and opportunities, and accelerated learning strategies to provide fast paths to competitive employment. Applications are planned to be available by the end of 2015.
Read a detailed fact sheet on the TechHire initiative here.
The February report from Kessler Foundation and University of New Hampshire shows continuous growth for employment for people with disabilities for the fifth consecutive month. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Job Report showed that labor force participation has increased from 29.5 percent in February 2014 to 31.1 percent in February 2015. Additionally, the employment-to-population ratio has increased from February of last year from 24.6 percent to 27.3 percent for February of this year.
To read more on the February nTIDE update click here.
In February, a resource guide for employers has come out about best practices for hiring people with disabilities. This guide is part of the Curb Cuts to the Middle Class Initiative and written mainly by individuals from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The guide focuses on four main areas of best practices including recruiting candidates, respecting employees with disabilities, providing reasonable accommodations, and legal framework. View the entire toolkit here.
Although the overall outlook for people with disabilities seeking employment in 2014 was tough, the last three months showed significant improvement that will hopefully lead into a more positive 2015. The employment-to-population ratio for 2014 declined to an average of 26.0 percent, falling from 26.8 percent in 2013. Additionally, the average monthly labor force participation rate dropped from 31.4 percent in 2013 to 30.2 percent in 2014. While these average numbers do not show a positive trend for people with disabilities in employment, October through December showed an increase in employment-to-population ratio than in those months respectively in 2013. December also had a higher labor force participation rate since December 2013.Hopefully these positive trends will continue into 2015.
The December National Trends in Disability Employment (nTIDE) Report from the Kessler Foundation and University of New Hampshire, showed very exciting statistics for people with disabilities. More Americans with disabilities are earning a paycheck for a third consecutive month. With innovative programs to help the transition of students from school to career, this has allowed people with disabilities to have steadier income. Additionally, the labor force participation rate, or the percentage of the population that is working or actively looking for work, has increased from 29.1 percent in December 2013 to 31.7 percent for people with disabilities. This is the first time since 2013 that there has been an increase in labor participation. The report also showed that the employment-to-population ratio for people with disabilities has also increased form 25.2 percent at the end of 2013 to 27.8 percent at the end of 2014. The nTIDE Report has uncovered great news for people with disabilities in the area of employment for the past year, with hopes of continued growth.
The Fiscal Year 2013 Employment of People with Disabilities in the Federal Executive Branch Report has been released with some exciting news! In the past 33 year, the highest percentage of people hired with disabilities was in 2013. Additionally, people with targeted disabilities are being hired at a higher percentage now than in the past 18 years. Due to these successes, more people with disabilities are in Federal service both in real terms and by percentage now, than they have been in the past 33 years.
This is reports shows that real movement forward and the efforts put in by the Federal Executive Branch of being a model employer for hiring people with disabilities.
As the overall job market improves, more Americans with disabilities are finding employment for the second month in a row, according to today’s National Trends in Disability Employment – Monthly Update (nTIDE), issued by Kessler Foundation and University of New Hampshire’s Institute on Disability (UNH-IOD). Disability job training and employment initiatives continue to create and expand jobs for people with disabilities.
In the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Jobs Report released Friday, December 5, the employment-to-population ratio increased from 26.5 percent in November 2013 to 26.9 percent in November 2014 (up 1.4 percent; 0.4 percentage points) for working-age people with disabilities. The employment-to-population ratio, a key indicator, reflects the percentage of people who are working relative to the total population (the number of people working divided by the number of people in the total population multiplied by 100).