Why I Always Disclose My Disability In a Job Interview

The ADA prevents anyone from directly questioning me about it. But I always choose to. Let me tell you why.
Publish date:
May 20, 2013
disability, disability rights, job interviews

A couple of days ago, I was putting off applying for jobs by loitering here on xoJane, natch. I came across Kelly Dougher’s incredible article on why she chooses to no longer disclose her disability during job interviews. As I was reading, I kept thinking, “Get it, girl. I hope you find something soon.”

And, I totally do. But, when I got to the end, I couldn’t shake the little part of me that was like, “Damn, I wish I could get away with that, too.”

The thing is, my wheelchair tends to do the disclosing for me. From the minute I enter a room, the fact that I have a disability is ridiculously apparent, whether I feel like discussing it or not.

For me, the question really becomes whether or not I chose to openly discuss my disability during an interview. Of course, the ADA prevents anyone from directly questioning me about it. But I always choose to. Let me tell you why.

Why bring it up at all?

You guys, I’m one of those people that has to learn things the hard way.

I wish I could tell you that I learned my lesson about disclosure after getting hired for not one, but two internships sight unseen. In both cases, I got stuck doing office work at the computer while the other interns got to travel, work on set, and meet famous guests of the shows. You would think that would be enough, right?

No, instead for my lesson about disclosure, I have to tell you about my adventures with the OKCupid. Which is not terribly work appropriate of me, but still…

When I first joined OKcupid, I did not list my disability on my profile. Instead, I would wait until the night before a date, write the person an awkward and sweaty message explaining that I used a wheelchair sometimes, hit send, and hope for the best.

As you can imagine, this worked out splendidly. Although, I often got messages back saying that my disability was NOT. A. BIG. DEAL. AT. ALL. But what happened afterward told a different story. One date showed up dolled up in last night’s clubbing gear while another texted on the phone the entire time.

I know a pity date when I see one. And I am not all about that.

After a couple of instances of this, I went over a friend’s place to lament my impending spinsterhood over pizza. Sarah listened patiently, but then asked the question that was apparently terribly obvious to everyone but me: Why didn’t I just put it out on my profile and get it out of the way?

She explained that it’s why she always made sure to display multiple pictures of her then-plus-size frame on her dating profile.

“That way,” she said, “you know that it’s really not a big deal for anyone who messages you.”

I don’t know why something clicked as she said that, but it did. All of a sudden, it dawned on me that even though I can’t control the fact that I had a disability. I could control how I framed the conversation.

Disclosing a disability on a job interview works much in the same way. Oftentimes, I find that able-bodied people tend to assume that a disability is this huge insurmountable obstacle that will prevent me from being able to do the job at hand.

However, if I take charge and lead the conversation, it allows me to ease some of their fears. I can assure them that I am completely capable of doing the job.

I guess my biggest piece of advice would be to stop treating your disability like it’s your most shameful secret that you can’t even bear to mention. Instead treat it like it’s no big deal. Because, like my dates, when you find the right employer, they’ll know that it isn’t.

“Okay, Tara,” you say. “You’ve convinced me to discuss it, but…”

How the hell do I even go about bringing it up?

Ugh, I feel you. This is the hardest part and to be honest I’m still a little awkward about it. I have a few suggestions, but of course you need to figure out what works best for you.

One method that I know a lot of people use is to bring it up upon scheduling the interview. The benefit of this is that it’s really easy to work naturally into conversation. You can just easily be like, “Is your building accessible?” or “I’ll be bringing an interpreter. Is there anything I needed to do to make sure he’s granted building access as well?” There, done.

Pro Tip: If you do choose to do it this way, make sure you ask the person with whom you’re interviewing rather than the receptionist. This way your message gets to the right place.

Another way to disclose is to make sure to bring it up during the course of the interview. I prefer to do it this way because, again, I feel like I have more control over the situation if I can gauge the way that my disability is being perceived.

Here are some examples of how to bring it up:

If you’re asked "What are some of your strengths?": If the interviewer asks me this question, I like to tell them that oftentimes my disability causes me to have to look for different ways to complete tasks that someone else might not have to think about. As a result, I’ve gotten really good at innovative, outside-the-box problem solving. Then, I tell them about how at one of my internships, I suggested a change to their transcription system that ended up making it much faster.

If you’re asked "Can you do X task?": Because of the ADA, an employer is prohibited by law from asking you any questions relating directly to your disability. However, they can ask you about your ability to perform certain functions of the job. If this situation comes up, just calmly reassure the interviewer that you can absolutely perform the task and take the opportunity to discuss any reasonable accommodations you may need.

I think that either of those ways gives me a chance to portray my disability in a positive light. Always try to make it into a positive thing, if possible. Even if it’s just the difference between training yourself to say, “I can stand for up to an hour” rather than “I can’t stand for more than an hour.” See the difference? If you have a positive attitude about it your interviewer may, too.

Now, as I said before, I’m still working on finding my “real person job” post-graduation, so I could use some more tips. Have any of you guys had experience with disclosing disability during an interview? Did I get it all wrong? Do your know anyone who’s hiring? Let me know!