Yesterday at Brookhaven Hospital and Neurological Rehabilitation Institute’s seminar, we were honored to have John Sassin as our guest speaker. He brought some interesting points to light. Should a person who is disabled, disclose that disability to potential employers or not?
John defines disclosing as the deliberate informing of someone about one’s disability (at work), to open up.. to reveal. If an individual does not disclose then he or she is concealing. John explained that to conceal generally means to keep something secret or prevent it from being known (cover-up, disguise, or mask). The question he asks, is if a person is hired under false pre-tenses (concealing), how is that employer going to feel when they do find out, and furthermore how is the effort the individual puts into concealing going to affect job performance. It takes energy to hide the truth.
He cautions that this doesn’t mean you walk into the first interview and say “Hi, my name is ____ and I suffer from a disability”. Instead wait until a degree of rapport has been established, then disclose. In preparation for such disclosure it is important to have someone who you can practice with, that can help prepare you to answer questions regarding the disability, and keep the conversation focused on the job – not the disability.
John lists several advantages to disclosure: it allows for reasonable accommodations to be made, legal protection, reduces stress, assists in getting a clearer picture of what will be expected of you in the position, provides full freedom to examine health insurance and other benefits, gives you freedom to discuss changes in your condition as they occur, improves self-image through self-advocacy, opens the door for others, and increases comfort levels.
In short, he states that honesty is the basis of a good relationship, and if you want to have a good relationship with your employer, honesty is essential. John went on to discuss the relationship of a person’s disclosure to protection afforded to them by the ADA. His closing statements offered a comparison of today’s disability movement to the civil rights movement of the 1960’s with one major exception, today we lack a central figure to rally the energy of the movement. This important social theme is sadly overlooked in our day-to-day world, but is clearly an issue that is very important to the long term interests of people living with disabilities of all types.