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Embracing DisAbility Disclosure

Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko from Pexels:
Two men, one with an invisible disAbility, shake hands across an office table

If you’ve tried applying for any job in the last few years, you’ve probably run into a section asking you about disAbilities. Not only physical disAbilities like injuries or hearing impairment but also mental disAbilities, which can include different types of anxiety. Odds are, every new candidate will be asked to disclose if they have any kind of disAbility. Whether they actually do so? That depends on you and your company.

Firstly, an obvious question must be addressed - why is that even there?

Without delving too much into the legal side of things, questions about disAbility in job applications are a recommended practice. In the interest of providing equal opportunities to all prospective hires, companies will bake sections into their job applications and portals asking applicants whether they deal with anything that might affect their ability to present their qualities in the sorting process. The underlying assumption is that if the managers and higher-ups know about an employee’s condition going in, and what will help them succeed, they can put pieces in place to more smoothly and effectively accommodate those employees.

On a base level, this kind of transparency can be highly beneficial for the applicant, as both parties will know what they’re in for and the transition into working for the company can be made far less awkward than it would be otherwise - and this holds true for both physical and any other disAbilities. If, say, an applicant has a hearing impairment but chooses not to disclose that the employer will suddenly find themselves with a lot of work and procedures that require hearing that they will need to change or adapt, and this kind of unexpected difficulty can jeopardize a new hire’s work experience. The same goes for if an applicant doesn’t reveal that they tend to deal with anxiety during interviews. Without that knowledge, the interviewer could judge them based on “normal/typically expected” behaviour standards and the applicant could risk becoming a non-starter. DisAbility disclosure acts as a way to smooth out all these issues and ensure the ideal circumstances for the prospective hire - an adjusted sorting process that increases chances to shine and be hired.

While disclosure can be immensely helpful for all parties involved, there is one important thing to bear in mind: they don’t have to tell you anything. While most organizations are legally required to pose the question in applications, an applicant is not legally required to answer - hence the “prefer not to answer” option included in many of these forms - and there could be several reasons they would choose not to answer; social stigma, personal reasons, etc. With a topic as potentially sensitive as disAbilities, the key is not to force them to tell you, but to create an environment where they feel comfortable enough to tell you themselves.

So how do you do that?

As the managers in an organization, there is a myriad of ways not only to embrace disAbility disclosure but disAbility in and of itself. It will naturally all depend on what kind of employees you have and what kind of applicants are eyeing your company, but what you’re looking to do fundamentally is show that you’re open to talking about disAbilities and helping your staff to work past them. Perhaps the easiest and most obvious way to show this is to simply explain your intentions - explain in the application/interview why you are requesting this information, and assure them that it will not hinder their chances of getting hired. Show them that you’re ready to take their situation seriously and adjust your hiring process accordingly.

As for the process of adjusting your hiring process and workplace, there are a multitude of resources you can put in place, should you be able to afford them. Examples could include having sign language experts or classes on site for the hearing impaired; hardware and tools available for those with limited hand mobility; and possibly even spaces and resources for those suffering from anxiety or depression. The trick is really to know your audience - not only your current staff, but your prospective staff as well. If you can show that you understand an applicant’s situation, they will feel far less hesitant about bringing it up.

Of course, if you have these kinds of resources at your company and want new hires to know about them, it may be worth dedicating a section of your company’s website to it, yet you should be careful about this. If you’re not serious about how you actually act, you could run the risk of an applicant feeling like they’re being advertised, which often has the inverse effect of making them feel less comfortable about it. 

Ultimately, disAbility disclosure is all about understanding, empathy, and trust. Whatever a prospective hire’s disAbility may be, just show them that you’re willing to listen and accommodate. If you do that, you should have no issue getting them through the recruitment process and helping them to integrate into the company.


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