Disability Disclosure in the Workplace

By Kari Cooke, CCPA Graduate Assistant

Students and alums with disabilities can find it awkward to determine how much of a role disability plays in their job search; as well as how to discuss their needs for equitable access to ensure they can perform their job tasks with excellence. At heart it is important to keep in mind three things: understanding your rights; determining the best time to disclose your disability; ensuring your accommodations enable equity in the workplace.
1Disability Rights Legislation
There are several pieces of legislation that describe either the rights of people with disabilities, or the role that society, federal agencies, and/or businesses. Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act 1990 are examples of legislation that attempt to be address the roles of disability in modern era. However, FERPA, HIPAA and TWWIIA deal specifically with privacy and/or transition to the workplace. There are amendments on a few of these pieces of legislation, so it is important to know these pieces of legislation and the impact it will have in terms of your rights in the workplace. Knowing your rights will enable to you to know what is feasible to expect as you go about the job search and start working in new positions.
When to Disclose2
When it comes to the act of disclosure it is important to know what you need. Many times individuals with disabilities who enter the workforce are not fully aware of how different positions may require a different set of accommodations. A great resource to look into is the Job Accommodation Network, found online at https://askjan.org/
The general rule of thumb with regards to sharing disability in the workplace is to share according to your accommodations needs. If accommodations are needed during the job application process, reach out to the Human Resources department or the operations manager or supervisor (if there is no HR representative/hiring manager/recruiter/etc.) and put in the request for accommodations. If you need accommodations during the interview process, then that is the best time to reach out, and so on and so forth. The key thing to keep in mind: in order to receive accommodations, you will have to disclose your disability.
3Community Support
There may be times in the workplace when accommodations fail to be granted, or leadership is confused about what is required on their part to ensure you have equitable access to providing quality work. Community resources in these circumstances can come from the federal Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (http://www.eeoc.gov/field/index.cfm). The EEOC assists with discrimination claims, and can help employees and employers understand rules and regulations as they deal with awkward situations. The local/state civil rights departments are another option. Although the departments go by different names in different states, e.g. Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission/New York Commission on Human Rights/Michigan Department of Civil Rights, etc. these departments can be a resource for finding more information about your rights in the workplace and next steps in ensuring you get the accommodations you need. The key to ensuring clarity is to always keep a paper trail of your interactions with supervisors or HR rep (keeping in mind that HR does not work for employees, but for the employer/company), and to be knowledgeable about what rights the laws of the land offer.
The keys to successful interactions are to 1.) Know your rights 2.) Know your workplace 3.) Know what you need, and 4.) Know how to get it.