When's the right time to reveal your disability to your prospective employer?
February 18, 2004 2:56 AM   Subscribe

When's the right time to reveal your disability to your prospective employer? Say you're deaf, and while it won't impact on your ability to do the job, you don't want to surprise them. Do you just turn up at interview and let them see your hearing aids, or ..?
posted by bwerdmuller to Human Relations (12 answers total)
Let's put it this way. I have advanced heart disease. I did not let my employer know until I had to go to the hospital for a stent. From my perspective, if the position requires a minimum standard of health, then the employer should say so up front.
posted by mischief at 4:04 AM on February 18, 2004

Don't worry about it. Let the person know when you see them in person, let them know the extent of what you expect may happen in your tenure of employment but I am sure you know that this is not going to truly affect your opportunity for employment unless you are doing physical labor (Assuming this is physical). Let the employer fully understand what you can offer; I am insinuating that your intellect and will to succeed will easily overcome any disability that may (or may not) keep you from making a difference. Am I sounding too cheesy?
posted by Keyser Soze at 4:44 AM on February 18, 2004

I would just turn up and let them see the hearing aids. It's not for you to volunteer anything over the phone beforehand, and if you've gotten into the office for a face-to-face, you're doing ok so far.
posted by amberglow at 5:24 AM on February 18, 2004

In the US this can be a tricky issue. Most employers are precluded from asking questions about a disability [or potential disability] at a job interview but then can ask a bunch of questions about "fitness for the job". They can not hire you if you don't fit the qualifications, but can't deny you the job purely because of your disability if it's not a requirement of the job. Many employers -- and this is just personal experience IANAE -- have mixed feelings about discussing disabilities during the hiring process because if you tell them you're deaf and you DON'T get the job, they worry that you could slap them with a discrimination lawsuit. On the other hand, it's completely appropriate to let your employer know up front what your limitations are, if any, and since being deaf [or whatever] may be a large part of who you are culturally and personally, it would come up anyhow. Once you're hired, employers need to make reasonable accomodations for the disability. You should see what the rules are governing this sort of thing where you are.

If it were me personally I would mention it at the interview if it's something that will be obvious anyhow. If it isn't -- like you are in the early stages of MS or something -- I'd leave it if it doesn't affect your ability to do the job assuming that if you get the job and like the job your employers will work with you on whatever needs to happen to adapt to your disability after the fact. The analog to this in the female world is "don't tell people you're pregnant at a job interview"
posted by jessamyn at 5:28 AM on February 18, 2004

I've been in interviews where people mentioned their disability and I've hired plenty of people who's disability came into play after they were hired. An employer can not legally discriminate unless it would affect your ability to do the job, but often employers do NOTICE the disability while interviewing and it may color their perception of you. If the disability is visible or noticeable, the best thing to do is say - "You may have noticed I have..... Here's how I think it might affect my ability to do the job and here's what I would do to work around it." Don't ask about their ability or willingness to accommodate, but show that you are resourceful enough to get the job done despite the disability.
If the disability is not noticeable or visible, don't mention it, and make sure your potential employer is large enough to have good health insurance, FMLA, and enough resources to accommodate your disability or illness.
Jessamyn is right - pregnant women deal with this every time they interview.
posted by pomegranate at 6:13 AM on February 18, 2004

Morally and legally, I'd think you don't need to tell them about it at all. They're not supposed or allowed to be making employment decisions on that basis anyway, so it's as irrelevant as your favorite sports team.

Socially, though, it might be appropriate or kind to let some people -- ie, someone picking you up at the airport -- know in advance, especially if you had a disability that caused your appearance to be at all odd or startling. "You might want to know in advance that I'm missing my left arm / have a giant schnoz / wear a large, belt-mounted hearing aid / am covered with thick black fur. I don't need any accommodation for this, but I've noticed that people can seem embarrassed if they're caught off-guard by this and I don't want you to feel uncomfortable."

Really, though, they should be no more surprised by your deafness than they would be surprised that you watch Formula 1. Both are equally irrelevant.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:42 AM on February 18, 2004

I was on the phone to the British MS society about this only yesterday. I have remitting/ relapsing MS which occasionally causes me grief (long flights, inadequate rest etc) but mostly is invisible and (thankfully) doesn't impair my work - which is desk/ computer bound rather than manual. In the UK, I am not obliged to disclose it if I'm not asked about it in an interview. If I'm asked about it, lying could mean dismissal later for dishonesty.

However, if I don't disclose it, I can hardly blame them if they make me do long flights, walk up too many stairs etc which causes a relapse.

Last job I had, I chose not to 'fess up until I passed my probationary period as I wanted to be kept on for my own merits rather than have a sneaking suspicion that they only retained me out of fear that I'd cry "discrimination". When I was a permament employee, I asked for a meet with HR and told them, armed with leaflets from the British MS society specifically aimed at employers. They were cool about it.
posted by Pericles at 7:01 AM on February 18, 2004

I don't have any serious disabilities, so my advice is probably bad.

However, from my point of view, you probably want to mention it up front. Do you want to end up working for someone who despises you?

Better to get it over with right away, unless there are no jobs at all and this is the last choice.
posted by shepd at 11:32 AM on February 18, 2004

I wouldn't make an issue out of it. But once you get the job (here in the US) you have to disclose if you expect to be accomodated under the Disabilities Act. I have Bipolar Disorder and was diagnosed back when I was still employed. They accomodated me beautifully. But you can bet your sweet bippy if they had known about it ahead of time I probably wouldn't have gotten the job in the first place (they heavily recruited me for it-I didn't go looking in the first place.)

If I am ever in the outside workforce again you better believe my mouth is shut until it's absolutely necessary to say something.
posted by konolia at 12:04 PM on February 18, 2004

Shepd, as the employer's representative*, I can tell you I've never despised an employee due to a disability, nor have the hiring managers I've worked with. We just want people to do their jobs, and to let us know if there's a way we can help them do their jobs better. Most of the time the person just needs to do the job Differently than we had envisioned it, with the same or similar end result.
Most disabilities are quite easy to accommodate and really don't negatively affect the person's ability to get the job done, but we can't accommodate something we don't know about.
* aka HR chick
posted by pomegranate at 12:52 PM on February 18, 2004

You have to tell the employer about any accommodation needs you have for the interview. Then there are various methods to secure the accommodations you need once you're on the job. We could use a more specific question here, I think.
posted by joeclark at 3:58 PM on February 18, 2004

I think if the issue is deafness, and you wear a hearing aid that enables you to effectively communicate as the job requires (ie, you can get through the interview without requiring the employer to 1)learn sign language or 2)write everything down as opposed to speaking it), then the hearing aid itself is enough of an annoucement, and I don't gather that it should be mentioned or referred to until you specifically require accomodation - for example, a new desk phone specifically built for the hearing impaired.

My mother told one employer she was deaf prior to interviewing, but it was for a company that sold hearing aids.
posted by annathea at 7:23 PM on February 18, 2004

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