The dilemmas of whether, when, what, who and how to tell others about your disability can be one of the hardest things about living with disability. The decision can be complicated by fear (and previous experience) of negative reactions and/or being treated differently after disclosure. Disclosing at work can be one of the biggest challenges for graduates with disability moving into their new career.
For an employer or career advisor, being told that a person has a disability for the first time can be a daunting situation full of questions about what to say and how to respond.
Here you will find essential points about understanding disability disclosure, how to tackle disclosing your disability at work and tips for employers and services about how to constructively and confidently respond to disclosure of disability. You can also find facts and tips on disability disclosure in the Employment and Career Service Provider's Education to Employment Toolkit or visit our Disclosure website Choosing you Path: Disclosure, its a personal decision.
The first step is to make decisions about:
- whether to disclose
- what to disclose
- who to disclose to
- when to disclose, and
- how to disclose.
To decide whether to disclose a disability at work, a person with disability needs to consider whether their disability will affect them at work and the potential benefits of telling their employer about their disability.
- To decide what to disclose at work about your disability, you will need to think about the purpose/s of your disclosure:
- to ask for workplace adjustments?
- to address expected or expressed fears or negative reactions by your employer, supervisor or co-worker about your visible disability?
- in the interest of starting an open relationship with your new employer and colleagues?
- to use information about your disability as a way of educating others in the workplace and influencing attitudes?
The reasons for disclosing will determine what information about your disability is appropriate to share.
Remember you are only obliged to tell your workplace about how your disability affects you at work (if it affects your ability to perform the inherent requirements). You do not have to disclose the fuller personal detail about the disability itself and its impact on you personally. Who you disclose to will depend on the processes within the specific workplace and the purpose of your disclosure. If you are considering disclosing your disability, find out whether the organisation has a specific contact person for arranging workplace adjustments.
When you disclose your disability could be a critical decision and the best time will depend on lots of factors. Check out the tips on how and why to disclose at different stages of your employment in Section 13 of our toolkit Deciding when to disclose my disability at work.
Positive ways to respond
Remember, your response to an applicant or employee's disclosure of disability can make a very important difference. It can set the tone for all other discussions, negotiations, your workplace relationship in the future and/or affect the person's effectiveness in the job. It can also affect whether this person ever discloses their disability again.
- Check out the communication tips in the 'What is disability' section to help work out some confident and effective ways to talk about disability in the workplace.
- Ask the person directly for details about how their disability affects them and the likely impacts in their job and the workplace generally.
- Avoid asking personal info about their disability not directly relevant to work.
- When the person discloses to you, adjust your own practices to accommodate the affects of the person's disability, depending on their individual needs.
- Focus on identifying possible ways that the employee will be able to perform their duties and the constructive ways the workplace can assist.
- Keep the information confidential.
- If appropriate, obtain the person's permission to share information about their disability with anyone else necessary to implementing the workplace adjustments needed.
- Before sharing any information about the person's disability, consider whether it is necessary and if so, which details are necessary and which are not.
- If any workplace adjustments are needed, set a timeframe for when you will get back to the employee to discuss these in more detail.
Remember that disclosure is a door. As an employer, you can determine whether disclosure opens new opportunities for the employee and your organisation or closes them.
It is a personal decision to tell another person, agency, company or institution about your disability.
Disclosing your disability is not legally required by an employee EXCEPT where it affects your ability to perform the 'inherent requirements' of a job (for an explanation go to section on Disability Discrimination), including to work safety in the workplace.
Telling others about a person's disability is reported by people with disability and their families as one of the most difficult aspects of living with a disability. It's a hard decision to make and so much hinges on whether, how and when they disclose.
Each transition stage in the life of a person with disability raises disclosure dilemmas. The transition out of university or TAFE and into graduate employment is for many people with disability their first venture into the professional world. This is a big move and raises questions about whether and how the graduate's disability will affect them in their new role as employee, and how prospective employers and co-workers may react to the person's disability.
Having a disability that is apparent to others doesn't mean there is no disclosure dilemma. There may be other aspects of the person's disability that are not apparent to others, such as a degenerative condition, an underlying medical condition or other disabilities not visible.
What affects it
The decisions about whether a graduate with disability should tell their prospective employers or career services about their disability, what to tell them, when, and how, are critical. Balancing the benefits with potential disadvantages can make this part of looking for graduate employment more complicated.
A graduate's decision to disclose a disability during their transition from tertiary education to employment, including how, when and to who they disclose is affected by many factors, such as:
- the type of disability
- the type of industry and graduate employment they are looking for
- the inclusiveness and diversity they have seen demonstrated within their future industry and prospective employer
- whether their disability is apparent or not and how this might affect a prospective graduate employer's judgement of their ability to perform particular duties
- whether they believe their disability is likely to impede their ability to meet future inherent requirements or work performance in their chosen field
- whether they believe they will benefit from workplace adjustments and
- the person's own history of responses from past employers, educators, employment and career service providers and/or other professionals encountered during course field work, clinical or practical placements.
The person's decision will also be influenced by weighing up the potential benefits of disclosing their disability at work, including:
- an opportunity to seek and negotiate support and workplace adjustments
- in some fields, personal experience of disability may be considered a valuable attribute to prospective employers and
- particularly where their disability is apparent, an opportunity to openly address any potential employer fears and promote their skills, abilities and attributes.
But there may also be fears and concerns about potential disadvantages of disclosing a disability, including being:
- treated unfairly by an employer, supervisor or co-workers
- considered unable to do the job because of the disability
- treated 'differently' by co-workers instead of 'one of the team' and
- seen by prospective employers as a liability and potential expense.