Education to Employment Education to Employment

Section 8: How does disability disclosure work in graduate employment?

This Section provides a brief explanation of the term disability disclosure and the many factors that make this one of the most difficult aspects of being a graduate with disability. We will explore some of the rights and responsibilities of graduates in relation to disability disclosure and suggested practice improvements for employment and career service practitioners when dealing with the issues of disability disclosure.

This information should be considered a guide only and not legal advice.

What is disability disclosure?

  • A personal decision to tell another person, agency, company or institution about a disability.
  • Not legally required by an employee EXCEPT where there is an immediate risk to others caused by the disability.

Why is disability disclosure a dilemma for graduates with disability?

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 is for many people with disability the first venture out of the education system into the world of employment. This is a big move and raises questions about whether and how the person'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 does not 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.

Decisions about disclosure can be complicated by fear and/or previous experience of negative reactions and/or being treated differently after disclosure.

The decisions about whether a graduate with disability should tell their prospective employers or career services about their disability, what they will tell them, when and how are a critical part of their transition from adult education into graduate employment. Balancing the benefits with potential disadvantages can make this part of planning the move out of university or TAFE more complicated.

What factors influence a graduate's decision about whether to disclose or not?

A graduate's decision to disclose their disability during their transition from tertiary education to employment, 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 apparent inclusiveness and diversity within their future industry
  • 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 educators, employment and career service providers, other professionals encountered during course field work, clinical or practical placements and/or employers.

What are the potential benefits and disadvantages of disclosing disability?

The potential benefits of disclosing their disability from the perspective of the student or graduate with disability include:

  • 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.

The student or graduate may fear potential disadvantages of disclosing their disability, including being:

  • treated unfairly by employment and career services, prospective graduate employers and/or co-workers
  • considered unable to do the job because of their disability and/or
  • seen by prospective employers as a liability and potential expense.

What are the disability disclosure rights and responsibilities of graduates with disability?

A graduate with disability (or any applicant or employee) is not obliged to disclose their disability to a prospective or current employer, except where the disability:

  • makes it impossible to meet the inherent requirements of the registration or licensing agency of the profession;
  • prevents them being able to meet the inherent requirements of the specific job being applied for/recruited into; and/or
  • affects their ability to perform the job safely and healthily (see Section 5 on key disability legal rights and obligations - section on Work Health & Safety).

Any person disclosing their disability to an education provider, service provider and/or employer has the right to:

How can I improve my practices as an employment or career service practitioner in relation to disability disclosure?

Remember, your response to a student or graduate's disclosure can make a difference. The response to a student or graduate's disclosure by employers, helping professionals and/or educators is one of the greatest determinants of future graduate employment success and whether the person will choose to disclose again.

  • Ask the student or graduate directly for information about how their disability affects them and the likely impacts in future graduate employment.
  • Avoid asking personal information about their disability not directly relevant to work and/or their studies.
  • When the person discloses to you, adjust your own practices to accommodate the affects of the person's disability, depending on their individual needs.
  • If appropriate, obtain the student or graduate's permission to share information about their disability with other agencies and/or potential graduate employers.
  • 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.
  • Focus on identifying possible ways that the student or graduate may be able to participate in their chosen field.
  • Remember that disclosure is a door. As an employment or career service practitioner, you can play a large role in whether disclosure opens new opportunities or closes them.

Where can I find out more information?

Australian Network on Disability's information sheet on disability disclosure.

Disclosure: It's a Personal Decision website by Western Sydney University's hosted NDCO Programme's provides detailed information for people with disabilities, their employers and educators about disability disclosure.

Australian Human Rights Commission's webpage on disability issues includes an information sheet on disability disclosure.