The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) “ensures people with disabilities are given the basic guarantees for which they have worked so long and so hard: independence… and the opportunity to blend fully and equally into the rich mosaic of the American mainstream” (said George H.W. Bush, who signed the ADA into law in July 1990). Yet, when looking for work, people with disabilities continue to have concerns about disclosing their disability. Many fear they won’t receive a job offer because of their disability. The decision to disclose or not is a personal choice. For those who choose to disclose, when should they tell a prospective or current employer?
We asked several of our scholarship recipients who recently entered the workforce when they disclosed a disability and how it went. Their experiences are included below to help you determine what method will work best for you.
Disclosure Before the Interview:
Early opportunities to disclose are in a cover letter, résumé or job application. Early disclosure may set the tone for open communication with an employer. The drawback is that perhaps an employer will disregard your application based on preconceived ideas about the capabilities of people with disabilities.
Hear From Former Scholarship Recipients:
“I liked to disclose my blindness before I came to an in-person interview so they would not be shocked that someone with a guide dog showed up.”
“I waited until the interview was scheduled and then I said… ‘I have a seeing eye dog… I just want you to be aware’. It was always risky, I always felt vulnerable.”
Disclosure During the Interview:
Vision loss may be obvious to an employer if you use a cane, a service dog, or require adaptive technology to access interview materials. The benefit of waiting until the interview is the opportunity to talk with a prospective employer and respond to any questions or concerns.
Hear From Scholarship Recipients:
“I try to lower it (vision loss) to a minimum so it was not the main topic. I always try to go into an interview with an open mind, hopeful they would be optimistic and I could bring something to the table that not every person can.”
“I am legally blind… I do not use a cane or guide dog. I do not know if everyone I interviewed with actually realized that I was legally blind. And I often choose not to disclose that until I get further along in the interview process where we are more talking about the practicality of whether the job would be a good fit.”
“I was interviewing with a company out in California. Instead of an in-person interview, they decided to do a phone interview, since I was located out-of-state. The interview was going great… until I mentioned my blindness at the end of the interview. I said, ‘I would like to talk about this aspect of who I am and how it relates to the functions of the job.’ And then the recruiter said, ‘oh’, in a disappointed tone of voice. From the way that he was talking before I brought up my disability, it sounded like he was getting ready to offer me a job. I ended up getting a form email saying, ‘thank you, we have decided to proceed with other applicants…’ In that situation, it might have been better to wait until I got an offer letter and then disclosed after the job offer was made.”
What to Say:
- Prepare and practice a script showcasing skills and abilities that make you a good candidate
- Identify your vision loss and discuss how it would impact job performance
- Find out the essential job tasks and use that list to consider how you will complete each
- Discuss known strategies and accommodations that have been successful for you in the past
- Discuss potential adaptive techniques or technology that will promote successful completion of the essential functions
- It is important that the script be positive, highlight what you have done, and indicate that you are a good candidate
- Avoid preparing a script that focuses on your vision loss and reads like a medical text; details of your eye condition and history are not relevant
- Information will need to be easily understood by persons not familiar with your vision condition
Anything you say that suggests there is something you cannot do because of vision loss can be followed by examples and strategies you have used to overcome that limitation in the past. Here are a few examples:
- I have a reduced visual field and am unable to see things in my peripheral vision. This does not affect seeing what is on a computer monitor as long as the monitor is less than 20-inches wide.
- Learning walkways when on the manufacturing floor combined with scanning and using my long cane as I walk keeps me safe.
- My vision condition makes my eyes sensitive to overhead lights. Focusing a task light right over my work and wearing a visor has been successful in alleviating eye strain and keeping my productivity rate high.
- I see bright lights and shadows. I use a screen reader that reads all electronic documents. And I use an ear bud so others around me do not hear the reader talking. I also use an app that scans and reads most paper text I receive.
None of the scholarship recipients called their preparation a script, yet all talked about balancing their vision loss with the job requirements and conveying that to a potential employer. Here are their strategies:
“I imagined all the situations where I might need things to be done a little differently (and told them).”
“I would disclose and then talk about the tools that I use in order to do my job in terms of accommodations. It has always been, ‘this is what I use, this is what I can do’. A more positive spin like that.”
“Incorporate vision loss into who you are as a professional and make that something that people really want.”
“Every time you talk about your disability, you find other ways of wording it, other ways of thinking about it. And take any interview you are offered (to practice).”
The National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth has put together a workbook titled “The 411 on Disability Disclosure”. It covers disclosure in three situations: postsecondary disclosure, disclosure on the job, and disclosure in social and community settings.
Virginia Commonwealth University Rehabilitation Research and Training Center created a document titled “Disclosure Decisions to Get the Job” .
The Council offers on-the-job technology evaluations, assistive technology training, and Vision Services staff can help you strategize and brainstorm potential adaptive techniques. For more information, contact Amy at AWurf@WCBlind.org or (608) 237-8107.
The Sharper Vision Store carries adaptive equipment, such as task lights, large print calendars and planners, as well as other products to help you find success on the job. Visit the website to learn more.
Thank you to the Industries for the Blind and Visually Impaired (IBVI) for giving us a grant to identify major barriers and facilitators of employment for people who are blind or visually impaired. Another thank you to the Council volunteer who interviewed former Council scholarship recipients.
The views expressed in this article are those of a select group of people. Share your own employment story by emailing Katherine at KCorbett@WCBlind.org.
This article is the second in a three-part series about employment. Watch for a future News You Can use article discussing how to request accommodations during the job search process.