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Disclosing a Disability

An image of people on a rollercoaster

Looking for work can often be a bit of an emotional roller-coaster.There will be highs and lows.

Why do people with a disability fear disclosing their disability?

Many people are fearful that disclosing a disability to a potential employer will have a detrimental impact upon their chances of securing employment. In a recent survey conducted by Great with Disability and reported by the BBC they found that 76% of respondents mentioned that they were concerned about informing a potential employer of their disability or health condition and that of the 1000 respondents a staggering 77% feared they would be discriminated against.

As a person with a disability the findings of this report are something that I can relate to very well indeed. Some years ago I was made redundant from the financial services sector and spent the next 11 months trying to secure employment before deciding that self-employment was the right route for me. Many people ask me if during the 1,923 job applications that I submitted and many interviews do I feel that I encountered any discrimination. In reality the simple answer is yes, I suspect that in some cases I was discriminated against by potential employers. However, in the majority of cases I did not disclose my disability at the application stage and it only became apparent to a potential employer when I attended for interview.

My reason for not disclosing my disability at the early stages had less to do with a fear of being discriminated against and more to do with my desire to secure a job based on my academic and personal abilities rather than because of my disability. I wanted to be sure that I had been selected for interview because of my curriculum vitae and not because I would help fulfill a quota or “target”.

Image of a computer keyboard with the word "Diversity highlighted

I have long been of the view that businesses, individuals and society in general should focus on seeing the person rather than the disability. Research has shown that individuals with a disability are often an untapped resource or the forgotten recruitment pool. Last year the Government undertook its Disability Confident Campaign; this consisted of a number of conferences across the United Kingdom in major cities such as London, Manchester, Cardiff, Glasgow and Leeds. As an independent Disability Consultant I attended a number of these events and even delivered a keynote speech.

As I attended these events a number of things struck me:

The purposes of the events were to encourage employers to consider recruiting individuals with a disability and share best practice. Many of the events were well attended and we heard from some of the largest businesses across the United Kingdom about measures they had undertaken to address equality and diversity within their businesses. We also heard from people with a disability who had been able to build successful careers.

After several of the events it became apparent to me that we were preaching to the converted, the majority of the businesses at these conferences already understood the importance of recruiting a diverse workforce and appreciated the value that someone with a disability could bring. The real audiences for these events should have been businesses that were not fully aware or had not considered the business benefits to having a truly inclusive culture.

If as a society we are to remove the fear of disclosing a disability then the key is education. Educating a person about the correct language and terminology to use when engaging with someone who has a disability and removing the myth that employing a person with a disability is both time consuming and expensive is our best chance of success.

The one bit of advice I would give to any of the graduates who took part in survey or indeed anyone else who is fearful of disclosing a disability would be- Don’t be afraid of disclosing your disability, it is part of who you are. By striving to achieve all that you are capable of and going onto build a successful carer you can help to educate more people and remove the barriers for others who may wish to follow in your footsteps.

Be open and honest with a potential employer about your disability and any adjustments which might make it easier for you to perform at your best within the workplace. I have had the pleasure of working with some of the largest businesses in the United Kingdom from a variety of sectors such as energy suppliers, train operators, healthcare providers, universities and many more. I think you’ll find that many employers are not only keen to tap into as wider pool of talent as possible but that they are also incredibly willing to make any adjustments that might be necessary.