Disclosing a Disability?
July 26, 2016 11:43 AM   Subscribe

With some job applications, there's a form that you fill out disclosing whether or not you have a disability. I've been wondering if I should fill that out.

This is in the US.

As you can probably tell from my previous Ask history, I'm looking to switch career paths and am actively job hunting. I've filled out many applications and I've been on a few interviews.

On some of these applications-- usually the long ones where you need a username and password and you need to fill out everything that's also on your resume-- at the end, after the EEOC stuff, there's a form that you fill out, and there's check boxes for whether you have a disability or whether you don't.

As I've mentioned in my previous Asks, I have Asperger's. I've been checking the box that says I have a disability, mainly so the employer's warned if it were to ever come up on the job. Lately I've been wondering if that's a mistake. I'm not sure if I've been losing out on potential interviews/phone screens because of it. I'm also not sure why a company would want to know that.

So, why would a company need to know that, even if you check the box that says you're not disabled? And should I continue to do it, or stop?
posted by Puck Soppet to Work & Money (17 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I've always been told that it is not permissible to ask people if they have a disability, as that is private information.

It *is* permissible to ask people if they need any accommodations to perform the job and if so, what kinds of accommodations. Here is a link from the EEOC about this issue.
posted by jasper411 at 11:47 AM on July 26, 2016

On an application form, they are probably gathering the data for internal purposes, to be able to demonstrate that they aren't discriminating.

If I were you, I'd hold off on making that disclosure until further along in the hiring process. While it's obviously illegal to discriminate based on such a disclosure, you only need to hit the one asshole, and proving it after the fact is almost impossible.
posted by praemunire at 11:47 AM on July 26, 2016 [10 favorites]

Do you need special accommodations? That is, would the employer need to do something special so that you can work there? (For wheelchair-bound people, for example, they might need to provide a special desk.) That's what they're asking about. If you don't need any special accommodations, that is they can treat you as they would anyone else, then say no.
posted by kindall at 11:47 AM on July 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

(Sorry, I was assuming that the question was actually in the form on the EEOC page, re: requiring accommodation, and was mentally boiled down to "do you have a disability" for the post! If they are asking you directly, they should not be.)
posted by praemunire at 11:48 AM on July 26, 2016

Response by poster: The form usually looks like this. It's voluntary, so I guess I could skip it. I'm not sure if it's that illegal if it's provided by the DOL though.
posted by Puck Soppet at 11:53 AM on July 26, 2016

I would not disclose something that could prompt conscious or unconscious discrimination. Do you want to be going in to your interview knowing that some of the people who will be reviewing your application are thinking of you as a person with a condition about which they know very little and about which they almost certainly hold negative stereotypes?

Most of these people will know very little about Asperger's and will be likely to see your whole interview through the lens of ignorant prejudice, interpreting all your answers and all your speech habits as the answers/speech habits of someone "with something wrong with them". Even if only the HR rep sees this stuff, well, HR has a lot of power in many searches.
posted by Frowner at 12:07 PM on July 26, 2016

I can speak to this, as I went through a long process to help add this form to our on-line application.

In our organization, the hiring manager never sees this form, EVER. When it says "Your answer will be kept private and not used against you in any way," that is 100% the truth.

Since we receive federal funds, we're required to ask the question and required to report the results to the government. It's part of an overall effort to collect data about disability and veteran status in job applicants and hires. I think it's a good thing, because that data may ultimately help shape policy and programs that will benefit these groups.
posted by Ausamor at 12:08 PM on July 26, 2016 [19 favorites]

And for those saying that this form is improper and you 'should not' be asked this, that is incorrect. This is a federal law, meant to protect persons with disabilities and veterans. You can read more about it here: Link
posted by Ausamor at 12:11 PM on July 26, 2016 [7 favorites]

My experience is that this info is kept private from the person/people making the hiring decisions, and is instead simply used by HR to collect/report aggregate statistics (i.e. something like "Our applicant pool had only 5% people with disabilities, hm, we need to step up our recruitment effort." or "We have lots of people with disabilities in our hiring pool, but they're never getting interviews. How do we fix this?") I'm sure there are companies that could misuse this, but I think there are also plenty that will use it properly. That said, it is voluntary so you certainly can check that you don't wish to answer if it makes you uncomfortable.
posted by rainbowbrite at 12:44 PM on July 26, 2016

My suspicion is that a separate form would not be attached to your application but used as a measure of how many applicants identify as having a disability. It is possible someone who is involved in hiring you could get your specific info, but it would not be appropriate for them to do so. When it comes to specific requests for accommodation for your disability, that should only happen after you have been hired and all of your benefits have been decided.
posted by soelo at 12:47 PM on July 26, 2016

This is a legitimate question that tracks demographics. There are ways to segregate the data so only aggregate information is reported and it's not personally identifiable. If someone with a disability would like an accommodation, that needs to be requested. Diabetes and cancer in remission qualify as disabilities, and most people manage Just fine unless there are strict food, break or attendance policies.
posted by childofTethys at 12:54 PM on July 26, 2016

Agree with several of the above - unless you're applying to somewhere with really unethical hiring practices (in which case you don't want to work for them anyway), the hiring manager - and probably even the person reviewing your resume if it's HR or something else - are not connecting that form to you. It is not useful as a way to let the employer know in case it comes up on the job, and it doesn't help or hurt you in any way in the hiring process.

I think it's a good thing for companies to be able to accurately report these numbers, and therefore I think you/everyone should answer in honestly, with the knowledge that it doesn't matter as far as your actual job interview process goes.
posted by brainmouse at 12:55 PM on July 26, 2016

I think, as a general rule of thumb, you can probably trust that a larger organization will actually use this form properly and not have it impact the hiring decision. I would assume that it gets a littler iffier for smaller organizations.

I say that in part because I worked for a Fortune 500 company -- an insurance company -- and my job sometimes put me in contact with small businesses (doctor's offices, chiropractors, dentists). They were subject to the same HIPAA rules we had to comply with, but the degree to which they understood and complied varied drastically.

Whether you choose to fill out this form or not, make sure you do not confuse this form with being open about your disability in the interview. My personal experience suggests that isn't the best way to get hired. I had what I felt was a high call back rate on my resumes, but kept failing to get hired after the interview. The first interview where I kept my mouth shut about my disability landed me a job.

posted by Michele in California at 12:57 PM on July 26, 2016

I have many HR friends who said they only use this for statistics collection purposes - but I have a diagnosis that qualifies, and I have never checked the box.
posted by something something at 1:03 PM on July 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

And for those saying that this form is improper and you 'should not' be asked this, that is incorrect. This is a federal law, meant to protect persons with disabilities and veterans. You can read more about it here: Link

Huh, that's changed quite recently (in the past couple of years). Good to know!
posted by praemunire at 1:20 PM on July 26, 2016

To follow up with the prior post, the criteria is if you can perform the essential functions WITH OR WITHOUT a reasonable accommodation. Some disabilities have little to do with job performance or policies. The focus is on performance. Filling out the form is not considered disclosure, as it is purely for data collection.
posted by childofTethys at 1:16 PM on July 27, 2016

Here in the UK we use a very similar form - at the application stage it is specifically asking whether you need accommodations to apply for the position, so for interviews and any other assessments that might be needed. If your disability doesn't require accommodations the employer needs to consider for you to have a fair chance, feel free to leave it blank.
posted by goo at 4:05 AM on July 29, 2016

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