I have touched on this topic in relation to Tourette syndrome and disclosure in THIS POST but I wanted to write a more in-depth post about employment and disability in general.
In 2017, Statistics Canada completed a survey that found 6.2 million Canadians had one or more disabilities. That means one in every 5 people, and that number increases as the population ages. Among those adults aged 25 – 64, 59% of them were less likely to be employed than those without disabilities! And THAT number increases even more as the severity of the disability increases.
While the default assumption when speaking about disability is that it relates to mobility (wheelchair/cane/walker/etc.), especially in the built environment, that is incorrect. Statistics Canada found that pain is the highest percentage of reported disability at 9.7%, closely followed by flexibility at 7.6%, mobility 7.2%, mental 3.9%, dexterity 3.5%, hearing 3.2%, seeing 2.7%, memory 2.3%, learning 2.3%, and developmental 0.3%. For further clarity, in this post I am referring to all forms of disability.
In Canada, we have laws that are meant to protect people with disabilities from being discriminated against. Unfortunately, the reality of the situation is that when we apply for work, once the disability is known, we are frequently discriminated against whether intentionally or unintentionally, and usually within seconds of disclosure or discovery.
So, what about disclosing? Should you disclose? My answer is 100% always yes, no exceptions. We want to have meaningful employment, and this means that we must create a relationship with our employer based on trust and cooperation. Disclosing is also important because we may need accommodations or compassion in the workplace and it is hard to ask for and receive what we need when we have not been upfront. So disclosing is good.
When should we disclose? Well, this one is a bit trickier and my most solid advice to this would be:
Do not disclose on your resume or cover letter because we want to do our very best to ensure employers are not eliminating us in a snap second without even meeting us. If you disclose at this stage you are taking a risk that they may not even book an interview.
Showing up for an interview with an undisclosed, visible disability is always a challenge because it often throws the interviewer a bit of a curve ball and some struggle to regain composure. So just be prepared for that if your disability is visible. It helps to be calm and ready with something to help break that awkward moment. I like to offer a handshake with “It’s really nice to meet you, thank you for taking the time to meet with me today”. By extending myself this way it can help to bring them back to the moment and see that I am engaging them, and they will focus on responding to me.
Invisible disabilities can be just as challenging. It takes an emotional toll for you to stand up and say “by the way I have this disability you cannot see, but it is there”. I think that people with hidden disabilities sometimes get into the habit of trying to keep them hidden, and now I am advising you work against your own protective mechanisms and actually say “Hi, I have a disability!” I know it is not easy.
Personally, I would advise you disclose during the interview. You do not have to give all the details, but you should at least mention your disability and be prepared to answer some follow up questions if they ask you how this might impact your work. I also advise if you have multiple disabilities, you do not list them all unless they all directly impact your performance, mention your most challenging disability/s that may need accommodation rather than overwhelm them with a list of things that would not create any additional need for accommodation. You want to be calm, matter of fact, and in control of your emotions.
The interview is my sweet spot because I can disclose (which is always nerve wracking), and then show that I will be an amazing employee by being well spoken, articulate, knowledgeable, and professional. Put your best foot forward and trust that they will see your value.
After that, if I do not get the job offer then it was not a good fit for my skills or my personality, that also remains true even if they wrongly dismissed my application due to my disabilities, it would not be a good fit. I try to always consider an interview a positive thing because it means I get to practice speaking, interviewing, and advocating, but it is never easy to feel that rejection whether it is the first or the hundredth time. Especially if you believe that the rejection was based on your disability.
Some people wait until they get a job offer to disclose, but I think that is problematic because it can create an atmosphere where the new employer might feel tricked or trapped. I believe being up front builds a strong, cooperative relationship from the beginning. It is still acceptable to disclose at this stage, but not the tactic I would personally recommend.
Once disclosed, potential employers often worry about how our disability will affect their business. Things like reputation, client reactions, financial impact, how they will need to adapt for us, how much additional work having us in their space will be, how awkward interactions will be, if we will be good enough or reliable enough to be worth all that. Wow that is one heck of an uphill climb without even saying a word. People with disabilities typically must work harder to sell themselves to a potential employer.
Organizations exist to try and help people with disabilities find employment. Some will do assessments to find where you might be a good fit, some will use their network and try to hook you up where they feel they can get your foot in the door, some will help you with skills around resume building and job interviews. These services are great and can be helpful for many, which is wonderful. Though it is less wonderful that we need these services to exist.
To employers I would say: Please look beyond the disability, there is a massive untapped work force just waiting to be given a chance to shine. People with disabilities are some of the strongest, most persistent, positive, hard working people you will ever take a chance on because we develop life skills to support kicking butt in a world that is not made for us. I guarantee you we will work hard to prove ourselves.
To job seekers: Don’t give up, I know it is hard. Practice your interview skills with someone who is a strong professional. Create the best resume you can. Keep your work and life skills up to date. Learn to write (or have help writing some templates) killer cover letters. Be amazing, be bold, be confident. You will eventually find the right fit with the right company.
If you are in Alberta here are a few of the many places that can help you, good luck!
Alberta.ca : Provides job search, workplace and educational support.
Chrysalis.ca : Provides help for people who have developmental disabilities.
Autusmspeaks.org : Provides several resources to help people with autism find jobs.
Excelsociety.org : Provides day programs and services of various types, primarily geared toward people with developmental disabilities.
Bredin.ca : Provides help for people looking for employment through training programs geared toward various disabilities.
Limeconnect.com : Provides help for those with physical disabilities to find meaningful employment.