An earlier article provided tips for choosing the right time to disclose a disability. Once you’ve made that decision, review the following examples of "how to say it" for advice and inspiration.
In a Cover Letter
Disclosing your disability in a resume, cover letter, or job application is generally discouraged unless it is relevant to the position.
- "My experiences managing my own disability will enable me to provide exceptional customer service to buyers of your company's assistive technology products."
- "As a recipient of your facility's excellent vocational services, it would be my privilege to use my clerical skills as part of your office administration team."
After Being Invited to Interview
There are two primary reasons why you might choose to disclose your disability prior to a scheduled interview:
- If you need a reasonable accommodation to participate in the interview process:
"I am excited to have the opportunity to interview with your company. As I have a vision impairment, I would appreciate if you could provide a large-print job application form to me. Thank you."
- If you have a significant visible disability that you want to make known to the interviewer in advance of the meeting, even if you don't need an accommodation:
"Thank you for your call. I look forward to meeting with you to discuss the position. I do want to quickly mention that I have a noticeable facial disfigurement. It has no effect at all on my ability to perform the job, but I didn't want to catch you by surprise."
During the Interview
The ADA prohibits employers from asking questions that are directly related to your disability. Examples of legal and illegal inquiries will be provided in a future article.
If an employer asks an unlawful question, the recommended approach is to answer the question in a way that addresses the employer's underlying concern without revealing your disability. For example:
- "From the question, it seems you want to know that you can depend on me to be at work when scheduled. Well, I had a very good attendance record at my last job. I only missed two or three days per year, mostly due to minor colds."
- “I’ve held similar positions for many years and can readily perform the essential job functions.”
Some questions may inadvertently cause you to disclose your disability, even if that was not the employer's intent. The most obvious example of this is being asked to explain employment gaps. You can be as specific or as general as you'd like, and choose to mention your disability or not. As much as possible, talk about what you DID during this time, not what you DIDN'T do.
- "I re-assessed my skills and career interests."
- "I took some time off to spend with family."
- "I was caring for a sick family member."
- "I had some health issues, but am now fully recovered and ready to get back to work."
- "I participated in an 18-month vocational training program to prepare myself for the career change that I found myself having to make after my accident."
If the employer didn't fully explain the interview process, you may unexpectedly find yourself disclosing your disability and requesting an accommodation on-the-spot.
- "I’m sorry, I didn't realize that the application process for your restaurant hostess position includes a pre-employment test. I have rheumatoid arthritis that makes it difficult for me to fill in those small circles to mark my answers. Would it be possible for me to say my answers aloud, then you could fill the circles in for me?"
You may also wish to voluntarily disclose your disability, and discuss the strategies you’ve developed as a result. Many such skills and traits will serve you well in the workplace, so it may be to your advantage to "sell" them at an interview. Questions about your strengths, ability to overcome adversity, and willingness to adapt to changing circumstances, for example, lend themselves to this.
- "My physical disability has taught me to persevere when faced with challenges. If I'm having difficulty with something, I keep at it until I succeed. I don't let myself get discouraged, and I never give up."
- "I need to read printed materials slowly and carefully because of my learning disability. This actually turned out to be an advantage at my last job, not just for me but the entire department, because I caught several serious errors that were overlooked by other people."
If you have a visible disability, you may want to acknowledge it head-on, even if it's not in response to a particular interview question. Anticipate and address employer concerns. Be sure to convey a confident and friendly attitude when doing so.
- "You're probably wondering how I am able to work on a computer since I have limited use of my hands. Well, I simply speak into a microphone, and a terrific software program does the typing for me! So, while I may not perform my job in quite the same way as my co-workers, I'm sure you’ll be pleased with my high-quality results."
- "As I'm sure you've noticed, I am deaf. I'm an excellent lip-reader. In face-to-face interactions, I only need people to wave or tap me on the shoulder to get my attention, and to face me directly when speaking. Whenever possible, I'll use email to communicate with people, but I'll need TTY/TDD service and equipment for telephone interactions."
- "As you can see, I have some difficulties with social situations. This has no bearing, however, on my ability to troubleshoot computer problems. What I'm saying is, even though I may not interact in a typical way, you'll find that I do my job and I do it well."
- "If you want to know how I'll do the job, I'll gladly demonstrate."
Also keep in mind that, while the employer generally controls the flow of an interview, it may be necessary for you to politely re-direct the discussion back to your skills and fit for the position.
- "Now that you have a better understanding of multiple sclerosis, I'd like to continue our discussion of the job and my qualifications."
After Receiving a Conditional Offer of Employment
If you have a non-apparent disability and need an accommodation, most people would recommend waiting until a conditional job offer has been made before disclosing.
- "Thank you so much for the job offer. I am very excited to join your team. I would like to mention one thing, though. I have a medical condition that causes some fatigue. My doctor advises me to take more frequent breaks throughout the day. But don't worry, the quality of my work will remain high, and I will make up missed time at the end of each day. I hope this isn't a problem for you."
- "I am so happy to hear from you. I look forward to working together. But there is one thing I'd like to discuss with you before I start. You may not have even noticed this during the interview because I've adjusted so well, but I have limited vision. As a result, I’ll need screen magnification software to do my computer work most effectively. It's relatively inexpensive, and I can help you place the order online, if you'd like."
After Being On-the-Job for a Period of Time
You can choose to disclose at any point during your employment, either because the need for an accommodation has arisen or because you simply feel comfortable doing so.
- "I have a learning disability that sometimes makes it difficult for me to understand verbal instructions. As you know, this has never gotten in the way of my job performance before. But lately, the problem seems to have worsened a bit. Do you think that you can follow up any verbal instructions with an email or memo that I can refer to as needed?"
- "Now that we've gotten to know each other better, I wanted to share something with you. I have a disorder that's been under control for several years through the use of prescription medication and counseling. It hasn't affected my work performance in any way, and I certainly don't expect that to change, but I wanted to make you aware of the situation as a courtesy. I hope this doesn't change your perception of me. Should you have any questions or concerns, please don't hesitate to discuss them with me."
Hopefully you found this and several earlier posts helpful in communicating with employers about your disability. To learn additional strategies for improving your interview and on-the-job-success, including your reputation among supervisors and co-workers, be sure to read Job Search and Workplace Success Tips for People with Disabilities.