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Looking for Work: Disclosing Disability

To disclose or not to disclose
Timing a disclosure
Use your control of the situation - Some key points when applying for jobs and disclosing disability
Questions about your disability once in post
Further information


Looking for work is rarely an easy process for anyone. If you have a disability, you may face other issues as well as those faced by other job seekers. Many people ask Skill’s Information Service whether they should tell an employer that they are disabled. Other people ask at what stage of applying for a job it is best to disclose a disability.

You may have a disability that you could not hide at an interview. You may feel unhappy about putting details on your application form. You may have an unseen disability. Your disability may have no effect on your ability to do the job. You may feel that there is no need to tell a potential employer in this instance. There is no clear-cut answer as to whether you should tell an employer that you are disabled. You must use your own judgement. The information in this leaflet can help you make this choice. You can take advice from careers services (the local company or at your college or university), or from the Disability Employment Adviser (DEA) at the local Jobcentre.

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To disclose or not to disclose

To disclose or not to disclose

There are valid reasons for and against telling an employer that you have a disability.

Reasons for disclosure

1. Employment is covered by the Disability Discrimination Act (1995)

If you declare your disability and feel that you have been treated unfairly in the application process, you can make a complaint to an Employment Tribunal. A complaint must be lodged within three months. This is where you can appeal against decisions. The Employment Tribunal can:

 say whether what happened to you was against the law
 recommend that the employer takes certain action (eg employs you, changes its policy etc)
 order the employer to pay compensation

If you have declared your disability, the employer cannot lawfully refuse to employ you, without good reason, just because you are disabled. They must also consider making ‘reasonable adjustments’ you might need in order to work there. For example, if specialist computer equipment enables you to overcome the effects of your disability it would be unreasonable of the employer not to take this into account. The employer would have to decide whether it is reasonable for them to provide the equipment. The Access to Work scheme can assist employers to provide equipment or alter existing equipment. If you do not declare your disability, an employer could say that they did not know and that you are unable to do the work set out in your job description. An employer does not have a duty to make adjustments for disability that is not disclosed. They may have grounds for dismissal.

If you declare your disability and the employer tries to dismiss you then you have more grounds for complaint. You would also have a reason to ask for support so that you can do your job within the workplace.

See Skill’s information leaflet
The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 for further information.

2. Many employers have equal opportunities policies

If an employer has an equal opportunities policy they have a certain commitment to recruiting and employing without prejudice. You can ask to see the company policy or ask what they do to ensure equal opportunities in their recruitment. You might feel more comfortable disclosing a disability if the company has stated that it will not discriminate against you on that basis. You might also prefer to disclose if you feel that the way they recruit will protect you from being disadvantaged, eg they evaluate applicants solely against the person specification. If the organisation has a written policy, this will give you a basis for appeal if you feel you have been discriminated against.

3. Some employers are keen to employ disabled people

Look out for the Employment Service ‘two ticks’ disability symbol on job adverts. This means the employer has made some commitment to employing disabled people. The ‘two ticks’ symbol also means you are guaranteed a job interview if you meet the minimum criteria of the person specification. Also, look out for positive statements about disability or equal opportunities. In some cases, your disability may be viewed as an additional qualification.

4. You are able to describe your disability in a positive light

Your experiences may have provided you with skills that are useful in the workplace. For example, having a personal assistant may mean that you have gained additional skills, such as organisational skills, communication skills or managing a budget. If you decide to disclose this information when you are ready to do so, you will be more confident. If you are forced to explain at a later stage, it may be harder to explain the positive aspects of your disability.

5. Many application forms or medical questionnaires for jobs ask direct questions about disability and health

If you give false information about this, and an employer finds out the truth later, you could risk losing your job.

6. If your disability has any implications for the health and safety of yourself or your colleagues, you are obliged to inform your employer under the Health and Safety at Work Act (1974)

If an accident happens as a result of a disability, and you have not told your employer about it, you as an employee could be judged legally responsible (although prosecutions are very rare).

7. You can get help through the Employment Service Access to Work Scheme

Employers can get free advice on adaptations to the workplace for a disabled employee or applicant from the Disability Employment Adviser (DEA) at the local Jobcentre. You can also get funding from the Access to Work scheme via the Disability Employment Adviser. Access to Work may help to fund specialist equipment or extra transport costs. You should always point this out to employers if they are worried about how much it will cost to employ you.

For more information see Skill’s leaflet Employment service help for people with disabilities.

8. You will be in a better position of trust if you give full details of your disability to your employer and line manager

A working relationship is often better when both people involved feel they can be open about issues that are relevant to the job.

9. You need to explain aspects of your CV (curriculum vitae)

Your disability might account for aspects of your CV that might otherwise count against your application, eg a gap in your educational history or career may have been due to a rehabilitation period.

Reasons against disclosure

1. You may be discriminated against or rejected by employers with pre-set ideas about the effects of disability

You may feel that today’s competitive jobs market means that employers will look no further than your disability and not look at your abilities. You may feel that an employer will automatically see you as a problem and possibly a potential expense. They may assume that you will take lots of time off through ill health or need special employment arrangements.

2.You may feel that it will give the employer the chance to label you by your disability

You may feel that an employer will see your disability as the most important thing about you or make assumptions about you on the basis of your disability.

3. You may not want to discuss your disability with a stranger

You may feel that the application process does not allow the time or space for someone who does not know you to get an accurate understanding of your disability, or that it is just not his or her business.

4. Your disability may have no effect on your ability to do the job

You may feel that your disability is not relevant to the job or the application, and so there is no reason to disclose it to an employer.

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Timing a disclosure

You may decide you want to tell potential employers that you are disabled. The next important decision is at what stage of the application process you should tell them.

On the application form

Some application forms ask direct questions about disability, so you can give all the details that you feel are important at this point. You may feel that your disability, and your life experiences due to your disability, increase your ability to do the job. You may wish to include these in the section on the application form that asks about why you feel you are suitable for the job.

On medical questionnaires

You may be asked direct questions about disability and health on a medical questionnaire. Whether you will need to fill one out, and at what stage you do this, depends on the type of job. You will have to answer honestly. If your disability has any health implications, you will need to put this down on this form.

On equal opportunities monitoring forms

An employer may have a separate equal opportunities monitoring form which they ask all applicants to fill in. This form is for them to see that the mix of people applying for their jobs matches the mix of people in society. If it does not, they may need to change where they advertise job vacancies.

These equal opportunities forms are not used to judge your application. They are separated from the main application form, usually by the Personnel Manager or the Human Resources Team in a large organisation, at an early stage. This means that the people who decide who to interview do not see these forms. They should judge the applicants on the basis of their skills and work experience only.

In a covering letter

If you are applying for a job with a CV (curriculum vitae) and a covering letter, you could mention your disability in the letter. It could also be mentioned in your CV, for example if you have been to a school or specialist college for disabled people.

Before going for an interview

If you are shortlisted for an interview and need practical support, such as a sign language interpreter or help getting to the interview, you could contact the employer to arrange this. In a large organisation you would probably contact the Personnel Department. It is much easier for employers to respond to your needs if they can prepare in advance. It will also show how you can manage matters relating to your disability, and may also improve how well you do at an interview. You will feel more relaxed if you know the right support will be in place.

At the interview

You may have a disability that you cannot hide from an employer. It may surprise them if you have come this far in the application process and not said that you have a disability (even if it has no effect on your ability to do the job). They may end up asking irrelevant questions about your disability that you could have simply explained in the application form. This time should be spent explaining how you are suitable for the job, not focusing on any disability.

Talking about your disability at an interview may be difficult. This is true if you do not find it easy to discuss personal matters in such an environment. It may be easier to put any relevant information down on paper when you first apply rather than having to deal with it in a face-to-face situation when you may be nervous. You will also have the time to prepare what to say, rather than having to come up with what to say at the interview.
But you may feel happy to tackle this kind of question in an interview. You may be better at explaining your disability or learning difficulty by talking about it, rather than putting it in writing.

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Use your control of the situation - Some key points when applying for jobs and disclosing disability

Do not assume that an employer will view your disability in a negative way. There are now around three hundred company members of the Employers Forum on Disability. Each is committed to improve the job prospects of disabled people. The Employment Service awards the ‘two ticks’ Disability Symbol to large and small organisations that commit themselves to promoting opportunities for disabled people. Other organisations may have good equal opportunities policies but not have the ‘two tick’ symbol, so find out more about the organisations or companies you want to work for.

Do not restrict your applications only to employers who are involved in positive activities. Always make your application on the basis of what you want to do. Then you can start thinking about the support you might need, if any.

If you time the disclosure of your disability, you have control over the way it is seen by an employer. You can describe your disability in a positive way as well as any positive effects it has had on your life. For example, if you have a hearing impairment your listening skills may be strong, such as attention and use of eye contact or body language. If you will be working with the public your awareness of disability may improve your service to disabled people.

Do not allow the interview to dwell on your disability, especially negative aspects of your disability. Job seeking is a frustrating business and it is sometimes tempting to use the interview as a chance to air past grievances. Employers will want you to be positive and enthusiastic.

Think about what your disability has taught you. What skills can be transferred into the workplace? Some application forms ask questions about your strengths and weaknesses, and your most important achievements. These can form the basis of a declaration, for example:

 'Because of my hearing loss I have developed a good level of concentration. This is demonstrated in my ability to analyse spreadsheets and make performance related forecasts.’
 ‘Having restricted mobility has meant that I have developed an interest in Information Technology at an early age and have worked with a range of software. I am keen to make this personal interest my career’

Admitting the difficulties you have had and stressing the ways you have found to overcome them shows maturity and determination to an employer.

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Questions about your disability once in post

Once in work your colleagues may show some prejudices, especially if they have had limited contact with disabled people or knowledge of disability. This could be the case even in a company that is genuinely committed to equal opportunities and the employment of disabled people, even if staff have been on all the relevant courses! Of course this is daunting for anybody with a disability, but especially if this is your first job or your first job since becoming disabled.

People may ask lots of questions about your disability. Often this is relevant, if it is about how you will do the job and how you may best be helped, for example:

 'Is this print large enough?'
 'Is this lighting OK?'
 'Are the shelves at the right height?'

However, you may have to deal with irrelevant personal questions about your disability, such as:

 'How much can you see?'
 'What is wrong with your legs?'
 'How much can you hear?'
 'When did it happen?'

Also, people may not be aware of subtle things that you may have to explain to them, for example:

 your condition may vary
 you may manage small print but trip over a chair
 you may be able to hear one type of sound better than another (such as men's voices as opposed to women's and vice versa)
 your speech may be clearer one day and not so clear the next.

It may help if your team is given some awareness raising before you start your job and you are involved in this as much as possible.

Some people can be awkward and embarrassed, preventing you from bonding with colleagues. They may have negative expectations about what you are able to do, and see only the disability and not other things about you. Being good-humoured and helping people to be relaxed about your disability can go along way to breaking down barriers. Of course, there is no excuse for people making offensive comments, either through ignorance or prejudice. Your line manager or personnel officer may be able to help with this. A chat with colleagues at the team meeting or an informal drink after work may help. If not, you should have recourse to the internal grievance procedures and the protection of the Disability Discrimination Act.

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Further information

You may find it helpful to talk through any concerns you have about disclosing your disability. A general or specialist careers adviser at your local careers company or the Disability Employment Adviser (DEA) at the Jobcentre will have experience of working with disabled people applying for jobs. You may wish to talk to another disabled person who already has a job about how they felt when telling their employer about their disability. A local group of disabled people may also be able to help you. The following organisations may be able to help:

Association of Disabled Professionals
PO Box BCM ADP, London, WC1N 3XX
Tel/Fax: 01924 283 253
Membership organisation for disabled people who are or aim to be professionally employed. Publish a quarterly newsletter and a series of employment guides, Becoming a … as a disabled person.

British Council of Disabled People (BCODP)
Litchurch Plaza, Litchurch Lane, Derby DE24 8AA
Tel: 01332 295 551 Fax: 01332 295 580
Min: 01332 295 581

National organisation representing groups run by disabled people. Can put you in touch with a local group of disabled people.

Other Skill Information

The Into Series

Into Art, Into Science & Engineering, Into Teaching, Into Law and Into Architecture, Surveying and Building Professions include advice on qualifying in these fields and profiles of disabled people who have successfully pursued these professions. These books cost 2.50 for individual students or job seekers, and 6.50 for professionals and organisations.

Information Leaflets

Related Skill information leaflets include:
The Disability Discrimination Act (1995): What’s in it for you?
Employment service help for people with disabilities
Careers, training and work for people with disabilities
Recruitment agencies and disabled jobseekers

Contact Skill information service for details, or find the leaflets on our website:

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