How to Disclose a 'Disability' During Your Job Search

disability"Disabled" is a broad term tha t refers to about 20 percent of Americans, says the Census Bureau. If you're one of them, you want to be smart, yet ethical, in how you handle information about your disability during a job search. In Fortune, Anne Fisher provides some insight. In addition, the disability issue requires you approach disclosure, if any, with common sense. Remember, employers are not your medical doctors. Candor can be used against you.

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The reality is this, of course: It's very tough to land a job. Yes, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 [ADA], exists to protect the disabled from discrimination. The ADA requires employers to make a reasonable accommodation for the disabled. But, the number of ADA-related complaints to the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission indicates employers might not be in total compliance with the letter or spirit of the law. In 2009, a record 21,500 complaints were filed.

How you approach this depends primarily on whether your particular disability is "visible" or "invisible." Sight impairment is an example of a visible one. By law, employers can't ask questions about the medical condition. You can introduce it, though, if you sense that will give you an edge or clear up some questions that may be hovering over the hiring process. You can frame that discussion about being, say, legally blind, in terms of accommodations in previous workplaces. You would use that as a platform to present your track record for accomplishments on other jobs.

An invisible disability, such as fibromyalgia or clinical depression, requires you make a critical judgment call, especially if your medical condition had been a negative factor in your ability to perform previously at work. Were there any accommodations instituted by you in a stealth manner or by your employer once you disclosed the condition? If so, you may need to share this information to avoid a repeat. On the other hand, if your disability was manageable, then there's no functional or ethical reason to bring it up during a job search. Once you have the job, then you can play it by ear -- that is, tactically -- what you feel necessary or useful to disclose.

You can download a free guide by Ernst & Young on issues related to disabilities in the workplace.

Next: 3 Federal Employment Laws That You Should Be Aware Of

Jane Genova


Jane Genova began focusing on transitions when the academic market collapsed as she was writing her dissertation in linguistics and literature at the University of Michigan.  After re-establishing herself in the public relations industry, she gradually published on the subject.  Her first piece was on The Professional Woman in THE WALL STREET JOURNAL.  Since then, she co-authored the book THE CRITICAL 14 YEARS OF YOUR PROFESSIONAL LIFE and myriad e-books and articles on career subjects ranging from emotional intelligence to aging.  In the 1980s she attempted another change by attending Harvard Law School.  She didn’t complete the degree but channeled that experience into maintaining a legal blog [] housed at the Library of Congress.

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Hi Mills family


December 28 2011 at 11:47 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

what would be a good way to explain an axiety disorder? i dont do well around i lot of people.......

December 21 2010 at 11:18 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Miss Cindy Ritter

i have been looking and i mean looking for jobs and no one as really
hired me because of my disabilty!! i really need help! and i also
need help in living on my own i'm 53 years old!!

thank you
miss cindy ritter

December 08 2010 at 11:29 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

jansquared, I am so glad you posted. I don't know where the post went from the previous woman who posted,

" Personally, I would have hired Helen Keller before I would hire someone claiming disability due to depression. Life is hard. Hell, we ALL have a reason to be depressed at one time or another, but we each have to make the decision to survive or succomb. If you can't effectively navigate the challenges of life, most of the time like most of us, you won't be able to handle a job on top of life. Don't even bother to apply."

I was soo enraged this morning after reading her post. I could only breathe enough to get out my two sentence reply. Thank you and well written.

December 08 2010 at 9:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Aanna, PLEASE DO TELL! I had a brain injury in 1987, but most people who meet me have no idea. I am very articulate and have excellent people, written and verbal communications skills. The only real problem I have is that I need a lot of repetition to learn new tasks, which makes me a little slower. I have lost jobs because they say I don't catch on quickly enough. I am currently unemployed. So, particularly in this economy, I don't mention it while interviewing because I'm afraid it will cost me a job. If I mention it on an online job application, I fear I won't even get an interview at all. Do you have ANY suggestions on how to deal with this?

December 08 2010 at 4:38 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Robert H. Goetz, Sr.

You can wipe your Backside with the Americans with Disabilities Act, for what little it is worth.

December 08 2010 at 1:40 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Good morning! Obviously you have serious issues surrounding "Depressed" people and know nothing whatsoever about an actual diagnosis of Depression made by a Psychiatrist. There are several different types of depression stemming from an actual chemical imbalance in the brain and some of these respond better to medication than others and some with medications and counseling/therapy, but not all forms respond in the same way so efficacy varies by the individual. I have one of these forms of depression and it is one of the hardest to treat. It has been a life-long struggle for me and for hundreds of thousands of others who have been diagnosed, those that are undiagnosed, and particularly for those who cannot afford and have no support to access the services necessary to treat the disease. One should not cast aspersions without the knowledge or insight needed to form an intelligent opinion.

In my case, your "tax dollars" are not supporting me. I am an educated and well qualified woman who worked from the time I was 16, full-time, reared a family, kept a home, managed to stay married, volunteered in my community, was active in our church, and now have several grandchildren to love and pamper. Does that sound like a depressed person to you???...well, I do suffer from Major Depression and have needed medications and therapy since I was a very young teen - I am now 59 years old. I worked from the time I was 28 with Seriously Mentally Ill clients and specialized in two fields; drug/alcolol abuse and the elderly with their various forms of dementia. You do not pay for me to be on disability through my own Social Security. I worked for the right to have the disability and my husband still works and pays his taxes and into Social Security. You have no idea what you are talking about and the difficulties that face people with real and serious depression. You have no idea the horrendous impact it has on your life in every area. I struggle day in and day out to maintain and have probably accomplished more in my life than you may have. I have been on disability since 2002 and may or may not be ready to go back to work before I am old enough to receive my actual Social Security Retirement benefits.

I suggest that you spend some time at the library and research Depression in the DSM 4R and maybe get involved in your community with a Mental Health Provider as a volunteer. Actually you sound like you could use some conseling to look into your suppressed and expressed outrage toward mental illness. Keep in mind that more people work with depression than those who are unable to work. I hope you never have to face dealing with a close family member with a mental illness and I'd feel very sorry for them. Remember, mental illness can stike anyone at anytime. Pray you never have to deal with it. You are unbelievably sanctimonious, self-righteous, and unenlightened and need to seek life elsewhere to spew your venom.

December 08 2010 at 10:52 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Personally, I would have hired Helen Keller before I would hire someone claiming disability due to depression. Life is hard. Hell, we ALL have a reason to be depressed at one time or another, but we each have to make the decision to survive or succomb. If you can't effectively navigate the challenges of life, most of the time like most of us, you won't be able to handle a job on top of life. Don't even bother to apply.

Are you kidding me. People die from depression. As a boss, I've helped depressed people "survive" as you put it, by working with them. You should evaluate your ignorance of humanity.

December 08 2010 at 10:34 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

And how do you explain a closed head injury that has cost me my short term memory? Who would hire someone that can't remember where they were going after a few minutes? And, again, I get no increase in my disability check this year! Everything is going up except my check. LOL We all will survive. Just cat food and no meds for this one. (kidding) You just do the best you can with what you have available.

December 08 2010 at 8:54 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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