When and how should a student with a disability disclose his or her disability to a potential employer?

Date Updated

Whether or not to disclose a disability prior to a job offer is the subject of much debate. The applicant must consider both the necessity of the disclosure and the likely impact on the employer's attitude. The decision is the individual's to make.

There is rarely a reason to disclose a disability in a cover letter, in a résumé, or on an application, and the result of doing so may be that the applicant is automatically screened out of the pool. One exception may be if a person must use a TTY or voice relay service for phone calls. Another would be if the applicant feels that the disability may be viewed as a positive characteristic for the specific job-for example, if the job involves counseling children with disabilities.

Once the job seeker receives an invitation to schedule an interview, they may need to arrange for accommodations. For example, requests for interview materials in an alternate format, a sign language interpreter, or a wheelchair-accessible location are appropriate.

For those with apparent (visible) disabilities, disclosure is inevitable at a job interview. The main thing for the applicant to remember is to focus on competencies. The applicant should discuss the ability to perform the job functions and, where appropriate, describe accommodations that are helpful. The interview is not the time to request accommodations. Rather, it is a chance to talk about accommodations in a way that will reassure the employer that the applicant is the best candidate for the position. By being open and straightforward, the applicant can calm the employer's fears.

Applicants with invisible disabilities often choose to avoid disclosure at a job interview. If applicants feel they can perform the job functions with accommodations, they do not need to disclose disabilities or accommodation needs during an interview.

Once a job offer has been made, the applicant should arrange for job accommodations before starting work. Full involvement in obtaining appropriate accommodations in a timely manner is in the best interest of the person with a disability.

For more information on disclosing disabilities in the workplace visit The 411 on Disability Disclosure: A Workbook for Youth with Disabilities. Created by the National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth, this workbook is designed to help youth, and the adults working with them, learn about disability disclosure.

For more information about job accommodations, visit the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) or the Four-Step Accommodation Model.