HomeADDInvisible Disabilities in the Workplace – To Tell or Not To Tell?

One of the problems with having an invisible disability like dyslexia is whether or not to tell your employer that you have it.

This is a tough one, because although we have the ADA’s protection, a prejudicial boss can still find another reason to fire you or a potential employer not to give you a chance.
This is a tough situation, because although highly functioning people with invisible disabilities can do amazing work, they often need accommodations to do the work.
So, the question remains: should the disability be disclosed or not?
Why to Tell About It
When you’re battling this question out with yourself, consider the reasons why to disclose your neurodiversity at the right time in the hiring process.
Honesty Counts
If the potential employer truly wants a good employee, they’ll appreciate your honesty. It also helps them to plan ahead for potential compensation you may need.
It Can Open Doors to Understanding
Remember, your differences also come with valuable gifts. Give your employer or potential employer an idea of the advantages you can bring to the workplace and the way you do your work. If you represent yourself accurately and fairly, needed accommodations will become a non-issue in a good employer’s mind.
Legal Protection
The only way to protect yourself in a court of law against unfair discrimination is to disclose your disability to your employer. However, if you don’t want your co-workers to know, your employer shouldn’t chat with them about it.
Easier Access to Accommodation
This is related to the first point, but it can also reflect on your overall job employment. It’s better to shine with a bit of assistance than to struggle and be unable to explain why.

An interesting video about why a dyslexic friendly environment helps everyone, and pointers on possible, affordable accommodations.
Why Not to Tell About It
Although the stress of carrying a secret about part of what made you who you are today can be immense, some reasons keep us from sharing it with other people.
Potential Bullying
This depends heavily on the work environment and the people you work with. Remember, your co-workers don’t necessarily need to know about your disability, if you don’t want them to.
Sadly, this is still too common a problem in some environments. When you’re an adult, it can be just as difficult to handle as when you’re a kid.
Prejudice
Like it or not, some employers and recruiters still see the words “dyslexic”, “ADHD”, “Autistic” or any other indication of disability and think “incapable”. As completely untrue as it is, it can still impact your chances of employment.
Even after you’ve been with a company for years, it can bite you. I’ve had co-workers with whom I’d been working for years turn around and treat me like a lesser being when they found out about my dyslexia.
Won’t Impact the Work
Depending on the job that you’re applying for, your disability might not impact your performance. In that case, there wouldn’t be a need to disclose it in the first place.
However, you need to be completely honest with yourself about this. It would be very helpful to go through an informal visit to see exactly what you’ll be doing if hired to determine this point.
Past Experience
If you’ve been stung by unfair treatment in the professional world once, it can be extremely hard to bounce back from it. The truth is, you can’t know how strangers will react to the disclosure.  If you believe that the only way to prevent a repeat of painful treatment is to keep your disability secret.
Your Rights in the United States
The social reasons for and against disclosure are all very compelling, but it’s vital to know about what rights you have under the law.
  • You are not required to mention it if you don’t want to, and they cannot ask.
  • The employer must provide reasonable accommodations.
  • They cannot treat you poorly because of your disability.
  • From what I’ve found, your employer cannot share private information with other people without your permission, including your disability or medical problems under federal law.
If any of this has happened to you, it would be a good idea to consult your state’s laws, too.
If you’re experiencing unfair treatment at the hands of your co-workers, consult the HR department or your supervisor. An educational session may be in order if the problems can’t be resolved on a personal level.

For more info about learning disabilities in adult life, check this book out.

Resources

As I was reading up on this issue, I found the following web pages which may be of use for job hunters with invisible disabilities.
Career Service Center at the University of Delaware – Great pointers on when to disclose your disability and when not to. This page also includes an example of pre-interview and cover letter disclosure, though it uses a wheelchair as an example.
Pre-Employment Inquiries and Disability – An overview by the US Government of what employers can and cannot do during the pre-employment phase.
University of South Hampton – A UK based site geared towards dyslexia.
Job Applicants and the Americans with Disabilities Act – Questions answered by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

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