THE THREE-STEP DISCLOSURE
1. Determining the NEED
In order to appropriately determine if you have a need to disclose, you will want to consider what you already know about your employer, your position and even yourself relative to the topic of disability.
Consider the following questions. A “Yes” response may indicate a need for or benefit to disclose while a “No” response may indicate a need for more consideration or perhaps an indication that there is either a limited benefit or no benefit to disclosing at this time.
|Does the firm and/or senior management publicly welcome and value individuals with disabilities?||YES||NO|
|Does the firm offer disability etiquette and awareness and related training?||YES||NO|
|Does the firm have a focus on disability related recruiting and/or internship and/or mentor programs?||YES||NO|
|Does the firm have a disability employee resource group? If so, is its mission and vision aligned with disability related business goals and objectives?||YES||NO|
|Do I clearly understand the “essential functions” of my job (not just the general job description)?||YES||NO|
|Do I believe I require accommodations to accomplish the essential functions of my job successfully?||YES||NO|
|If so, will the accommodations alter how someone would typically accomplish this job?||YES||NO|
|Am I familiar with the provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Amendment Act (ADAAA)?||YES||NO|
|Do I believe I am protected under this legislation?||YES||NO|
|Am I comfortable with my disability?||YES||NO|
|Am I comfortable describing my disability to my manager and specifically as it relates to successfully performing the essential functions of my job?||YES||NO|
|Am I aware of my strengths and limitations relative to successfully performing the essential functions of my job?||YES||NO|
|Am I comfortable describing these strengths and limitations?||YES||NO|
|Do I understand what a reasonable accommodation is and what the criteria is to receive such supports?||YES||NO|
|Do I understand what the obligations are of my employer to provide such supports?||YES||NO|
|Have I explored the types of workplace supports or productivity tools (reasonable accommodations) that will allow me to do my job effectively?||YES||NO|
|Am I comfortable describing these needs to my manager?||YES||NO|
|Have I successfully utilized workplace accommodations before?||YES||NO|
|Have I practiced disclosing? Was it successful?||YES||NO|
If by answering these questions you have determined you need additional information, consider the following:
- Consult with your employers' Human Resource department regarding firm specific policies, procedures and resources.
- Review your employers’ public website and intranet site for firm-specific information about disability related training, resource groups, accommodation processes and the like.
- Consult with your physician about the types of accommodations you may require and for how long.
- Contact your state department of vocational rehabilitation about potential accommodations and resources.
2. Deciding WHEN to Disclose
Like with most decisions, there are pros and cons associated with the timing of your disclosure. Only you can determine when the best time to disclose is. Although you will want to take the following situations into consideration, you should never disclose unless you are thoroughly prepared for the meeting.
|Immediately following the start of the job or the onset of a disability||It ensures you received the job offer based solely on your credentials (especially if you have an invisible disability). It can also prevent possible misunderstandings in the future. It would allow you to take advantage of all legal protections available as well as other company provisions.||Employer may feel that you have been dishonest in the application/candidate process which may erode trust.|
|Shortly after you have been on the job||It gives you the opportunity to establish performance credibility. It also allows you the time to investigate some of the employer related supports before disclosing.||It may take time to secure the requested accommodations. The absence of an accommodation may have already negatively impacted performance. Employer may believe that you have not been honest which may negatively affect your working relationship.|
|When performance difficulties arise||If difficulties never arise you may never need to actually disclose. It’s let’s your manager know you want to do everything you can to meet work demands even when your personal circumstances become challenging.||Employer may have difficulty changing his/her perceptions of your work performance, feel betrayed or always wonder what other important information you may be keeping from him.|
|During a performance review where you are not rated well||There is none||At this point, the employer will most likely not believe that the negative performance is solely due to a disability. There will most likely be feelings of mistrust which will negatively impact a future working relationship.|
|When applying for a promotion or lateral move to another position that may require support where none was required before||Clearly illustrates how seriously you take this new position.||May impact management’s perception of your ability to do the job.|
3. Deciding HOW to Disclose
The manner in which a disability is explained and/or accommodations are requested, including the words used, can have an enormous impact on the employers' perception of the person’s capabilities. Instead of using a disability label, you may want to consider describing it in functional terms that explain the impact of the disability. Simply stating, I have an anxiety disorder, could create significant and inappropriate questions. A better alternative would be to say, I have a condition that causes me to become anxious at times, especially in times of high stress. When it happens, I may temporarily lose focus, but in past positions at the firm, I’ve managed it fine by just having a quiet workspace. If you allow me to take on this new position, I would work together with you to set up my workspace so it would work out for both of us.
Always remember to answer questions honestly and directly but not those of a personal nature. Also remember to keep your response short and to the point – don’t invite a long discussion about the subject, giving it more attention than it merits. Keep the conversation steered toward your abilities, not your disabilities.
♦ Be optimistic and focus on your abilities, specifically as they relate to the essential functions of the job.
♦ Be clear about why you are disclosing and your desired outcomes from doing so.
♦ Do not volunteer negative information.
♦ Avoid medical terms or human service/disability jargon. Instead, use general, functional terms to briefly explain the impact of your disability on the job.
♦ Stress current, positive activity rather than past negative experiences or issues.
♦ Educate your manager about your needs but only as related to the essential functions of the job.
♦ Have resource information available for your manager such as sources to obtain specific technology solutions but not to learn more about the disability.
♦ Explain the benefits of your disability regarding your ability to multi-task, be innovative, persevere, etc.
♦ Respond to employer concerns by talking about your compensatory strategies or accommodation solutions but provide such solutions as options not the only way. Do not be emotional or confrontational.
♦ Remind your employer about your right to confidentiality, including to those on your team.
♦ Frame the disclosure around how you work best and most important, stress that you are in charge and in control.
Some examples of how to frame the statements above are as follows:
> As an individual with a life-long physical disability, I learned early on to focus on my strong intellectual abilities. For instance, I am proficient in XYZ software applications, operating systems and even programming which I would consider an asset for this lateral move to a position within our IT department.
> I have a learning disability which typically does not impact my ability to read but I am finding with so many documents to review so quickly that it is impacting my ability to maintain the quality and speed at which I am required to successfully do my job. Have you ever heard of a screen reader? It is a software program that reads electronic information aloud using a computerized voice which would enable me to keep up with my work. I would like to request this software as a reasonable accommodation.
> Now that I have been working here a few months, I have come to realize that most tasks are verbally assigned at staff meetings. I find that I work best when instructions are both written and verbal. You probably did not know but I have a disability that makes processing verbal information a challenge. Could you accommodate me by providing such instructions in writing as well as in verbal form?
> After disclosing your disability to your manager, Thank you in advance for keeping this information confidential.
> I have noticed that I am having a difficult time completing my work assignments. I have a medical condition that requires frequent breaks in order to do my work. Would you allow me to work later to enable me to take more breaks? I always get the job done when I manage my schedule in this way.