Full disclosure: When should you reveal a disability at work?

A man's hand holds a pen hovering over a form, with the question "Do you consider yourself to have a disability?"

The OED defines "disclosure" as the action of making new or secret information known. But for disabled people, it tends to have a more specific usage - one that causes much soul-searching and indecision.

What is disclosure?

It's never far from a disabled jobseeker's mind and usually comes to the fore when filling in a job application form. It's the word used to describe that tricky situation that many people with disabilities will recognise - do I choose to tell a potential employer that I am disabled or not?

When do you disclose?

There's usually an invitation to declare your disability on applications, in the bit about "equal opportunities" called a monitoring form. The Equality and Human Rights Commission says that employers must not base decisions about who to take further into the application process on the information people give in this section. They also advise HR staff not to pass the monitoring form on to the person making recruitment decisions. But some disabled people still feel that sharing the information too early does invite discrimination and could cost them an interview. So, why tell if you don't have to? Why not wait and let them find out once you're in front of them?

Could disclosure be a good thing?

Billy Saunders thinks so. He recently got creative with his job search and uploaded a video CV to YouTube, with help from a mentor. In it, he is completely up front about his disabilities. "It's a way of telling people who you are, what you can do and what people might see as barriers," Saunders says. "If you give them advance warning that you are visually impaired, then they aren't going to get you to fly a plane."

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Saunders' CV includes footage of him using specialist technology, playing piano and showing off his talent for figuring out the exact day of any date in any given year. It was created by small recruitment agency A Potential Diamond, which helps people with autism, Asperger syndrome or mild learning disabilities find work. The video had 293 views in its first three days.

If you don't give advanced warning, you won't necessarily get an accessible interview. The room could be too small or upstairs, which would cause problems for wheelchair users or with mobility impairments. Assessment tests may be unreadable or cause difficulty if you're dyslexic or have vision difficulties. The interview itself may even be difficult if, for instance, you're hearing impaired and there is no loop, or if it is held in a room that echoes.

A disability disclosure form, with the question: "Do you have a disability?"
Should I disclose?

For Kate Nash, who works with businesses on how they treat disabled staff, disclosure is a personal choice. "To get the workplace adjustment that you need, you have to share personal information," says Nash, who has also written a book on sharing information about disability with employers. "But there are lots of people who manage their impairment themselves."

Nash, who has arthritis, does disclose. "I would choose to be my best self at interview and if it is relevant to the job I'd say right at the end that I have arthritis and what that means. And then I tell them that 'of course I want to make it as easy as possible for you to recruit me. If you do appoint me, I'd be keen to talk about the adjustments I might need'."

Ouch in the workplace

Who needs to be disability confident?

When sheltered work ends

Deaf workers in a hearing world

Adjustments might include flexible working hours, specialist equipment, or help from a support worker or interpreter.

But if someone becomes disabled while already working, deciding when to disclose can be tricky. Nash says many newly disabled people are getting used to their situation and that sometimes they need to "practise telling their story" before they share it with anyone else.

Is disclosure a helpful term?

Some people call it a declaration. Kate Nash doesn't think either are good words. "To disclose something suggests that you have a secret," says Nash, "and if you declare something, that sounds like you've got a huge piece of news. This is language that we as disabled people might choose to use for ourselves and that's OK, because that's how it feels."

But she says that employers shouldn't use it because "it perpetuates those notions".

"Disclosure" and "declaration" are particularly off-putting words for people who are still getting used to disability, adds Nash. "Language that suggests you're having something that's a bit of a problem might stop you from sharing the information that gets you the adjustments you need."

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