Preparing for when to talk about your disability with a potential employer.

When—if ever—to disclose your disability to a potential or current employer is one of the biggest issues persons with visual impairments and disabilities deal with during the employment process. It’s also one of the most frequently debated issues—if you ask three people who have disabilities about disclosure, you will get three distinctly different points of view on this topic. Disclosure decisions might be easier for a person with a more obvious physical disability, but for people with low vision, or less-apparent disabilities, disclosure can present a challenge. It’s important to put some careful thought into disclosure so that you understand your options and their potential consequences, both positive and negative. This section will guide you through the process of thinking about when and how to disclose your disability.

Ultimately it’s your decision to disclose or not, though it’s important to remember that you’re not covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) until you disclose your disability to the employer. There is not one right answer to the disclosure issue; each situation and employer is different.

Disclosure Scenarios: Pros and Cons

Below you’ll find a discussion of stages in the employment process when you might consider disclosure, along with a discussion of some possible reactions and consequences. These are typical situations that you are likely to encounter during your job search.

Disclosure prior to the interview, by correspondence (a letter, e-mail, or cover letter) or phone call.

Possible Positives:
The employer knows upfront and will not be caught off guard when you arrive at the interview.
The employer feels that you are being honest.
The employer will have time to think about how a person with this type of disability would fulfill the job duties.
The employer may interpret your comfort with disclosing your disability at this early stage as a sign that you are confident you can do the job.
If the employer has had positive experiences in the past with persons with disabilities, they will be excited by the opportunity to hire someone with a disability.
If the employer has been given an initiative to hire competent persons with disabilities they will recognize that your employment could be a great opportunity.

Possible Negatives:
The employer may be scared or intimidated and decide to ignore your resume or application due to misconceptions about blind and visually impaired people.
The employer may have never met a person with a visual impairment and thus be unsure or uncomfortable about interviewing you.
The employer may not intend to hire you because of the disability, but will interview you anyway because they are worried that you might accuse them of discrimination.
The employer may think that they will not be able to afford the accommodations required to hire an employee with a disability and therefore may not interview you.
The employer may believe that blind or visually impaired people always have multiple disabilities and that you will not have the intelligence to perform the job and the required duties.

Prior to an interview, by meeting the employer in person (going into the employer’s office or place of business to get or drop off an application) and possibly demonstrating that you have a disability.

Possible Positives:
Going in person demonstrates your ability to arrive at the employer’s office and act professionally.
By entering with confidence and being dressed appropriately, you can make a good impression and your disability will not be an issue.
Whoever you meet will have the chance to interact with you and ask questions about accomplishing the job duties. This is an opportunity to sell yourself as a potentially valuable and capable employee.
By disclosing at this stage, the employer can ask about possible accommodations that you would need to fulfill the duties of the job or to take an entrance test. Again, this is an opportunity to ease their worries by explaining what you need. You may have the opportunity to demonstrate a piece of technology that you have with you at that time.
In-person interaction will dispel any biases or misconceptions about your intelligence.
An in-person meeting is a good opportunity to educate a potential employer and promote yourself as a quality applicant in the process.

Possible Negatives:
If the employer has a bias or holds prejudice against persons with disabilities, now that they know you are disabled, they might block you from getting an interview, even though your resume and supporting documents demonstrate that you are an appropriate candidate for the position.
The employer or staff might feel that you will not be able to perform a job that sighted people typically perform. If they were to hire you, it would mean other employees would have to perform some or most of the tasks the employee in your position is supposed to take care of.
Some employers may think your disability disclosure is a scam to set them up for an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) non-compliance lawsuit.

During the interview, in person, or on the phone.

Possible Positives:
Open-minded employers will be interested in how you see your abilities fitting with the job duties.
Some employers may be comfortable hiring persons with disabilities, but still have concerns. By disclosing at the interview stage, you have the opportunity to address their concerns and demonstrate that you are a competent, qualified candidate who would be a good addition to their company.
Some employers may need a little education on your visual impairment.
Disclosing at the interview stage will give you the opportunity to inform them about the reality of your disability. When you choose to go this route, it’s important to talk about your situation simply, honestly, and comfortably without making the interviewer feel dumb or awkward. (Remember: employers are not supposed to ask about disabilities, but if you choose to disclose, they will want to know. It’s better to pro-actively and fully address their concerns.)
Some employers may have other quality employees who have disabilities and will be excited to see how you could do the job effectively.
Waiting to disclose until the interview means that a possibly biased employer doesn’t have the opportunity to block you from interviewing. You have a better chance of being judged fairly and also have the chance to perform well during the interview.

Possible Negatives:
The employer might feel that waiting to disclose until the interview is a dishonest way to represent yourself. They might not hire you because they feel you aren’t trustworthy.
The employer or staff might feel that you will not be able to perform a job that sighted people typically perform. If they were to hire you, it would mean other employees would have to perform some or most of the tasks the employee in your position is supposed to take care of.
The employer may feel uncomfortable or embarrassed because they didn’t expect a person with a visual impairment and they have a lack of experience with persons with disabilities.
The employer may have had bad experiences with persons with disabilities in the past or have heard stories of bad experiences. Disclosing during the interview gives them the opportunity to apply these negative feelings to you and your application/interview before they’ve made a hiring decision.
The employer may see your disability as a legal liability and won’t want to run the risk of hiring you because they think you have a higher chance of getting injured, or that you would accuse them of discrimination.

Disclosure right after you are hired and on the job.

Possible Positives:
You are hired without having to negotiate biases or run the risk of getting excluded from consideration because of your disability.

Possible Negatives:
Waiting to disclose until after you’re on the job might make your employer feel they can’t trust you. They may work to accommodate your disability, but you may have damaged a professional relationship.
Because they don’t want to accommodate your disability, or because they are biased, your employer may find a reason to get rid of you other than your visual impairment.
Your employer feels they have been forced into something without complete knowledge of the consequences.
Your employer may interpret your delay in disclosure as a lack of confidence in your abilities.
Your employer may think you purposely waited to disclose so that you can pursue a lawsuit. This may damage your professional relationship and reputation.

Disclosure only when it becomes an issue on the job.

Possible Positives:
You are hired without having to negotiate biases or run the risk of getting excluded from consideration because of your disability.
You are able to prove your worth on the job.

Possible Negatives:
You have to hide something that is a part of who you are.
Your employer may notice that you struggle with some tasks and begin to think that you have a cognitive issue.
Your employer may become happy with your performance and begin documenting these issues. You may eventually disclose your disability to your boss, but at that point the decision to fire you may have already been made.
Because the employer was not aware of your disability at the time they made the decision to fire you, you are not covered under the ADA.
Because you disclose so late in the game, the employer feels that you are simply making excuses for work performance issues.
Because you wait so long to disclose, the employer feels that you have misrepresented yourself and not been honest with the staff.
Your employer may feel that you are not comfortable with having a disability and this may make them uncomfortable around you.

* Wolffe, K., and Johnson, D. (1997). The Transition Tote System (2nd ed.). Louisville, KY: American Printing House for the Blind.

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