Federal law requires an employer to provide reasonable accommodations to a job applicant with a disability, unless it would cause significant difficulty or expense. If you require accommodations during any phase of the interview process, it’s your responsibility to inform the employer.
Disclosing your disability is not required, and it’s your personal choice whether you share that information. If you can navigate the hiring process and perform the essential functions of the job without accommodations, it’s typically not necessary. However, you do need to disclose if you need accommodations or other protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Time of Disclosure
If you choose to disclose your disability, only you can decide when the right time is to share this information with an employer.
Disclosing at this stage will allow you to present your disability in a positive and personal manner. But this may distract the interviewer from your skillset and alter your consideration for the position.
Disclosing at this stage allowed the interview to stay focused on your skills and abilities, but the employer may feel you hid an important attribute about yourself, which may alter your consideration for the position.
Address this concern by stating you wanted to learn more about the job functions before disclosing.
Disclosure often becomes more difficult the longer you wait. Your job performance may suffer and changes in your job responsibilities may need accommodations.
Employers may accuse you of falsifying your qualifications, in which you may not have legal recourse against changes in your employment status.
Prior to disclosing your disability, you’ll want to prepare yourself for the discussion by taking the following steps:
Review the Job description and hiring process. Is there a job function or phase in the interview process that may be difficult due to you disability?
Create a list for possible accommodations. These may be accommodations you have used in the past or accommodations you have researched.
Decide who you are going to disclose your accommodations to. You should only disclose your disability to those involved in the accommodation process. This may include: Human Resources, your supervisor, or your Employee Assistance Program counselor.
Plan out how much you want to disclose and exactly what you want to say. To feel more comfortable with the disclosure process, prepare and rehearse your disclosure script in advance.
Your script should include:
A brief description of your disability
Avoid using clinical or technical terms that can be confusing and intimidating. You do not need to thoroughly discuss your diagnosis.
An emphasis on your job-related skills and abilities
You want to convey the message that you’re a qualified candidate with great skills who also happens to have a disability, rather than focusing just on your disability.
A description of the functional limitations related to your disability that may interfere with your job performance.
Suggestions for accommodations
“I have (preferred term for your disability). I have (list of key skills/abilities) and can perform the essential functions of this job, but sometimes (indicate functional limitations) might interfere with my ability to (the duties you may have difficulty performing). It’s helpful if I have (specific accommodations you need).”
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
The ADA protects qualified individuals with disabilities from employment discrimination. You must meet the following criteria to be protected from employment discrimination:
You must meet the employer’s requirements for the position related to skills, education, experience, and other areas.
You must be able to perform the essential functions of the position with or without reasonable accommodation.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is responsible for enforcing the ADA. The ADA applies to private employers with 15 or more employees and all state and local government agencies regardless of the number of employees. (Sections 501 and 505 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibit discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities who work in the federal government).
Employers are prohibited from performing the following acts under the ADA:
An employer cannot engage in recruiting practices that discriminate against job seekers with disabilities.
An employer cannot refuse to provide reasonable accommodations for a known disability during the interview process or on the job.
Prior to making a job offer, an employer cannot ask applicants questions that would likely reveal an applicant’s disability.
Prior to making a job offer, an employer cannot require applicants to undergo a medical exam.
The ADA restricts employers from asking questions that will likely expose an applicant’s disability prior to making an employment offer. The following are examples of improper interview questions:
Are you disabled? / Do you have a medical condition? / Have you ever been on disability leave?
How severe is your disability? / What is your prognosis?
Do you need accommodations to perform this job? (inappropriate if asked before disclosing disability)
Responding to an inappropriate interview question can be difficult. Consider the intent of the question, and instead of responding to the improper question directly, respond in a way that addresses the question’s true objective.
Interviewer: Are you disabled?
Your Response: I’m assuming you’re asking this question because you want to know if I’m able to perform the essential duties of this job, and I assure you I’m capable of performing the essential functions related to this position.
If you are asked a question that you are not sure of the intention, ask the interview to explain in more detail.
Interviewer: Have you ever been on disability leave?
Your Response: I haven’t been asked this question before. Can you tell me more about what it is that you’d like to know?
Social Security Disability Benefits on Co-op
If you receive Social Security Disability benefits (SSI or SSDI), you must contact your SSI representative to discuss how you will handle your SSI/SSDI payments while on co-op. Usually, you will have to report your income to the Social Security Administration, however, this does not mean that the amount of benefits you will receive will change or that you will stop receiving benefits.