Disability / Job market

Being open with an employer about a disability or health condition  

Living with a disability or a long-term health condition can be challenging. Obstacles caused by this can feel overwhelming in the work environment and can prevent a person from thriving. This is why it’s important to think about whether to talk to the employer about it.

Many people worry about disclosing personal information to potential employers for fear of how this will be perceived. A person is defined as having a disability if they have a physical or mental impairment that results in a substantial and long-term effect on their ability to carry out day-to-day activities. This protection also applies to people that have been diagnosed with a progressive illness such as HIV or cancer.

Businessman hand signing the document business contract agreementThe Equality Act 2010 banned the use of pre-employment questionnaires which forced candidates to answer questions about their health, and gave enhanced protection from discrimination available to people with mental health problems. This gives you the power to decide when and if you want to let an employer know about the issues that affect you.

Being up front can feel a bit risky, but would you want to work for someone who does not want to be supportive of people with disabilities or long term health conditions? There are ways to look for potentially supportive employers 

Pros and cons of disclosure, reasons not to disclose:

  • You may feel that your condition or disability has nothing to do with your ability to do the job
  • You don’t want the employer focusing on your condition or disability, rather than your abilities
  • You may feel that the employer will assume you need more time off, or perhaps you will need additional support to do the role
  • You worry that you will be less favourable to an employer than other candidates

The benefits:

  • Disclosing can ensure you receive appropriate ‘reasonable adjustments’ in the selection process
  • Providing incorrect information on a medical questionnaire could invalidate a job offer
  • Gives you the opportunity to highlight additional strengths e.g. well-developed problem solving or IT skills
  • You could be able to access additional funding to support you with equipment, etc
  • Disclosing allows you to explain any possible gaps in your academic study
  • It enables you to put academic results achieved into context if required

When to disclose

In general you are not obliged to disclose at any point of recruitment or even once in the job (exception such as suffering from seizures that may have health and safety implications for you or other) and the main thing to consider is whether or not your disability or long term health condition has or would affect your ability to get through the stage of recruitment or do the job.

Telling anyone about your conditions is a personal choice, and involves a thoughtful consideration of the pros and cons. unfortunately discrimination does still take place both consciously and unconsciously. More positively, disclosing means you’re likely to be protected by the Equality Act and discrimination against you can be unlawful. Letting the employer know gives them the opportunity to be supportive, maybe even offering you flexibility and adjustments that allow you to thrive for years to come.

So if you do choose to be open about your disability or long term health condition how could approach this:

The do’s and don’ts of disclosure

Do…

  • Be positive about yourself and your ability
  • Focus on your skills, abilities and personal qualities – What you CAN do
  • Provide brief information on your disability where relevant to your ability to do the job and provide examples of how you manage your disability
  • Make suggestions about any adaptations or adjustments you might find useful
  • Prepare for how to respond to questions about your disability/health issues and provide positive examples of how you have met these challenges in the past

Don’t…

  • Presume that an employer will view you in a negative way
  • Assume that an employer will understand your disability without further information from you (remember that your experience is unique to you)
  • Allow your disability to become the focus of your application

Businessmen Shaking HandsTalking about ways in which you’ve overcome any adversity can be a very attractive prospect to an employer. Your ability to be resilient can showcase skills such as problem-solving, emotional intelligence and an ability to work pro-actively. Ultimately disability should not define you, but it is part of who you are.

Good luck with your job search and remember that the Careers Team is always here to support you. For more on information on this topic please visit the Diversity page

Ian Scrase is a Careers Project Officer with the Student Opportunity Careers Team. 

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