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Careers Café

Disclosing disabilities


I was reviewing some of my previous blog posts and realized just how much I focus on the stress of searching for a job.  Well, apparently I’m continuing the trend.  If the job search is inherently stressful, it gets more complicated when you’re trying to determine whether or how to disclose a disability or disabilities to a potential employer.

There is a range of options in terms of timing and degree of disclosure.  You can disclose a disability right in your application, when contacted for an interview, during the interview, once you have a job offer, at any point during your job, or never at all.  You can provide a significant level of detail, just enough to meet your purposes, or somewhere in between.  You can disclose to a supervisor, specific coworkers, your organization in general, and other people your job brings you into contact with.

Every option has pros and cons, and planning can help reduce—but not eliminate—the risk that your abilities will be misinterpreted.  This blog doesn’t provide hard and fast rules.  These are suggestions to get you thinking about what will work best for you.  And, because disclosing disabilities is a complex topic, I’m not even going to try to squish everything into one post.

So, let’s start with situations in which you think you’d benefit from an accommodation.  The when and how of your request may vary.  I would argue that it’s rarely to your advantage to disclose a disability in your application, because you have no opportunity to immediately counter false assumptions.

When you’re contacted for an interview, it’s worthwhile asking a few questions about the nature of the interview.  Is it a panel interview?  Who are the interviewers?  Will there be a practical component?  The answers can help you better prepare and, if there is a practical component, you’ll have the opportunity to ask more questions, particularly if you typically use adaptive technology when completing your work.  If you think using adaptive technology would give the interviewer a more accurate picture of the work you could do for them, consider saying that you use technology X for the type of work the practical component assesses, and checking to make sure you can use your preferred technology for the interview.  Again, there are risks either way, so choose your course based on your research into the organization and your own stance regarding disclosure.

Next time (in about three weeks), I’ll look at disclosure in interviews and on the job.  In the meantime, though, you might find it useful to look through your provincial human rights code, or the Canadian Human Rights Commission’s webpages on the duty to accommodate, employees’ rights and responsibilities, and employers’ rights and responsibilities.

Liz Koblyk
Liz Koblyk is the associate director of the Wilson Leadership Scholar Award at McMaster University.
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  1. Sharon-Dale Stone / November 21, 2012 at 14:59

    Your blog caught my attention as I happen to be researching and writing (with colleagues) on the topic of academics with chronic illness and whether or not they disclose their illness or (usually invisible) disabilities. We have found that virtually everyone struggles with the question of whether or not to tell, and who to tell and when to tell. This is a particular issue when accommodations are required, and we found some academics who would rather go without accommodation than disclose. So far we have a few publications related to this research (available on my page at and we hope to have an article published on exactly this topic sometime next year. I would be delighted to continue this discussion with anyone who is interested. It is an issue close to my heart.

  2. Liz / November 23, 2012 at 15:03

    Thanks for your comment. I’m not too surprised that you’ve encountered people who would rather forego accommodations than disclose a disability. There are uncertainties about how supervisors or colleagues will react, and whether the people one reaches out to will maintain confidentiality. I’m looking forward to your article, and would be very interested in knowing what strategies the people you’ve spoken with have used to plan for requests for accommodations.

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