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Top Secret Job Skills CD cover

Top Secret Job Skills: Declassified is an animated, interactive CD produced by PACER to help transition-age teens, with and without disabilities, learn interpersonal skills that are needed to be successful in the interview and on the job

Disclosing a Disability in a Job Interview

excerpt from Point of Departure, Vol. 2, No. 2...PACER Center...Fall, 1996

Landing job is priority, speaker says

"Do what it takes to get the job. Don't disclose unless you absolutely, positively have to." That's the advice of Ed R. Williams, Program Coordinator of the STEPS Program at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

The STEPS Program is a transition to postsecondary education program funded by OSERS. Williams spoke to Transition and Disability Service professionals at the session "To Disclose or Not to Disclose," at the 1996 AHEAD Conference in New Orleans this July. His advice, based on a combination of research, past experience as an employer, and work with students gives individuals some practical guidelines from which to approach this difficult question.

Williams listed five opportunities an applicant or employee has to disclose their disability to an employer:

  1. The Job Application
  2. The Interview
  3. After the job offer
  4. After you have started working
  5. If a problem exist in the workplace

The worst time to disclose, of course, is after you've been fired. On the other hand, you may never choose to disclose. Because of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the only logical reason to disclose is if you need to request a reasonable accommodation from your employer to perform an essential function of the job.

Interview Tips

  • arrive 20 minutes early
  • conform to dress and presentation style of the interviewer
  • shake hands only if a hand is offered
  • decline any refreshment
  • bring an extra resume
  • start interview through introductions and small talk
  • describe work-related experiences
  • answer all questions
  • answer with confidence
  • do not give unnecessary information
  • do not discuss disability
  • do not take notes during an interview
  • close the interview

The tips have primarily been gleaned from a list of "Culturally Normative Interview Behaviors", presented at the 1996 AHEAD Conference by Ed R. Williams, University of Arkansas.

Disclosure on applications

The only appropriate time to disclose on an application is if the employer is actively recruiting employees with disabilities, stated Williams. An applicant can tell this from Affirmative Action statements that appear on the application forms of some businesses.

Offering the perspective of a former retail store manager, Williams noted that employers use the application process to screen out undesirable applicants. "Employers are afraid of making mistakes," he said. "Once you hire someone, it is difficult to 'get rid' of them." Once you make it to the interview stage, you have essentially demonstrated that you are qualified for the job.

Williams made the point that "Disclosure is not culturally normative." Employers generally do not want to know about their employee's personal lives. The only time an applicant is required to disclose personal information is if they have been convicted of a felony.

Disclosure during interviews

Williams cited a recent study where three groups of people reading from the same script were evaluated by professionals who then made hiring recommendations. The applicants of Group One made no disclosure.

Group Two applicants made a non-threatening disclosure. And Group Three applicants told their potential employer, "I have a disability but it will not affect the way I do this job."

The result was that the people who did not disclose -- even those who had obvious disabilities -- were more likely to be hired.

After the job offer

Williams noted that there are risks to disclosing your disability at any point. It is often recommended that applicants disclose their disability after the job offer, as you have gained time to learn about the job and to prove yourself to your new employer.

The danger of disclosing at this point, said Williams, is that it creates an atmosphere of distrust. However, an employee might explain at this point, "I wasn't sure what the essential functions of the job were from the initial information, and didn't realize I would need to ask for a reasonable accommodation."

In fact, Williams points to recent court cases showing that courts expect employees with disabilities to do more than just disclose their disability. They must also work with employers to come up with reasonable accommodations. To come up with reasonable accommodations that might be required for a job, an applicant must first know the essential functions of a job.

A shortcut to essential functions

How does an applicant know what the essential functions are? "They don't," said Williams. This is why his program has developed an "Essential Functions Worksheet" that can help applicants identify the essential functions of any job by finding the answers to the following questions:

  • Importance of function to the job.
  • Are there a limited number of employees available who can perform this function?
  • Percentage of time spent performing the function.
  • Consequences of not performing the function.
  • Are others in similar positions required to do this function?
  • What level of expertise is required for this position?

Williams encouraged transition specialists and parents to help students practice how they can incorporate these six questions into questions they ask during their interview. For example, "Would you describe a typical work day?" and "What skills are required to do this job?"

It is crucial that students be given the opportunity to practice these interview skills and to learn how to frame questions that will draw out this information, Williams said. "Role play interview situations and rehearse responses to all the questions you can think of. Practice, practice, practice."

How to use the 'Essential Functions Worksheet'

The "Essential Functions Worksheet" developed by the University of Arkansas at Little Rock can be used by either applicant or employer and can be completed in about 10 minutes.

All of the activities or job functions of a particular position are listed (column A on the example). Each function is then evaluated -- in relation to six functions -- on a scale of 1 to 5 (1 being least important, 5 being very important).

The figures in each row are added together (column H), and a score of 19 or more indicates that function is an essential function.

The six functions (B through G on the worksheet) are:

  • Importance of function to the job.
  • Are there a limited number of employees available who can perform this function?
  • Percentage of time spent performing the function.
  • Consequences of not performing the function.
  • Are others in similar positions required to do this function?
  • What level of expertise is required for this position?

An applicant can use the worksheet to help determine if they are qualified for the position, or in determining their accommodation needs. It provides an applicant a framework from which to consider disclosure, and a starting point for negotiations.

Position: Delivery driver (example)
Function Import Others Available Time Spent (%) Consequence of not performing Others Required Expertise Total Essential (Y/N)
Driving 5 4 4 5 5 2 25 Y
Deliver packages 5 4 3 5 5 2 24 Y
Return van 1 2 1 1 4 2 11 N

A score of 19 or more in column H indicates an essential function.

Column 1 Column 2 Column 3 Column 4
Function Can you perform this function? Could you perform this function with accommodation? Type of Accommodation

Once essential functions have been identified, applicants can begin to analyze if they are qualified for the position, or identify reasonable accommodations.

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