When it comes to applying for jobs, it can be so easy to get overwhelmed by the process. There’s applications which may or may not be accessible, phone and virtual screenings and of course interviews. It can be daunting to figure out how to successfully navigate all these steps with a vision impairment, but one question that always seems to linger in the back of everyone’s mind is “Should I disclose my disability?”. There are so many factors that may impact the answer to this question and I’d like to provide you with some food for thought to help you make this personal choice.
Before deciding if disclosure of your disability is necessary, let’s take a moment to examine how the law may impact your decision.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is the main law that protects the rights of workers with disabilities. It prohibits discrimination in hiring and employment based on disability. It covers private employers, state and local government agencies, employment agencies and labor organizations.
The ADA requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for applicants and employees with disabilities. If an employee or applicant needs a reasonable accommodation, he or she must let the employer know about it. The employer may ask for medical documentation to verify the need for the accommodation, but does not have a right to know specific information about the disability itself.
Disability Disclosure Can Be Tricky
When you tell a potential employer that you have a visual impairment, they may not know what to do with the information. They may not even know how to refer to it properly. They may make assumptions about your abilities and capabilities and truthfully some may treat you differently because of these false assumptions. Some employers may have reservations about your ability to complete the essential functions of the job and others may pity you and start apologizing during the interview.
If you decide to disclose your visual impairment, be sure to do so with confidence. There’s a difference between being unsure about whether you can do a job and needing accommodations for it. Your interviewer will be able to hear that difference. If you are unsure yourself, it’s because you haven’t taken the time to research what accommodations look like for you. Take time to research the essential job duties and proactively present how you can and will perform the job duties with specific examples of accommodations. Do you use a screen reader or magnification program? Share this information with the employer. Most employers are unfamiliar with assistive technology and will welcome the opportunity to learn more.
If you decide you would prefer not to disclose your vision impairment, be aware of some potential consequences this may have. For example, many employers complete job interviews virtually, but some are still completing in-person interviews. In both scenarios, it could be easy to miss visual cues and be perceived as though you are not paying attention as a result of your vision loss. Employers value eye contact and lack there of could negatively impact you during an interview. Additionally, even during a virtual interview, many employers choose to display questions on the screen, and some now even send the questions ahead of time for review prior to the interview. Should you be required to access these questions on the spot visually, this could certainly cause some stress and anxiety especially if this is unexpected.
One additional item for consideration specifically for in-person interviews is the use of a mobility aid such as a white cane or service animal. Many of us have a great deal of usable vision and it can be tempting to want to participate in an interview without the use of our mobility devices to lessen the chance of descrimination during the hiring process. Unfortunately this could have a negative impact on your performance. Many times when interviewers come to the lobby to escort applicants you are required to follow them down long confusing mazes to the interview space. It can be easy to lag behind and appear disoriented which could give off an unfavorable impression to the interview panel. This could be an opportunity for the employer to make inaccurate assumptions that may impact their hiring decision.
Disclosure is a Personal Choice
Whether or not to disclose your visual impairment during the job search is a personal choice. As a general rule, you are under no legal obligation to disclose your disability at any point in the process unless it directly relates to your ability to perform the essential functions of a position. However, there are several pros and cons associated with disclosing at various stages of the process, including before you apply, when you apply, after you’ve been hired and even after being on the job for some time. While some people believe that they can more easily establish trust with an employer if they’re honest up front about their disability, it’s also possible that talking about it before being hired could negatively impact how an interviewer perceives you as a candidate.
At the end of the day, talking about your disability and potential accommodation needs is a choice only you can make. Take time to weigh the pros and cons of disability disclosure for each position you apply for. It’s completely possible that for one position you may not require any reasonable accommodations but for another reasonable accommodations may be needed. There’s no blanket decision that can be made across the board for all positions, or for all of us thriving with vision loss. For more considerations for disclosing your vision loss, check out this resource from Career Connect.