Skip to main content

Disability Disclosure on the Job: What, Why, When, and How

Young adults with disabilities who received special education services or accommodations during high school may also need supports at work. When students with disabilities are in the K-12 school system, they are “entitled” to receive certain services and supports based on education laws. After they graduate, however, young adults with disabilities are “eligible” to receive services based on their individual needs and must proactively ask for them by disclosing they have a disability. This means that the young adult with a disability must choose to tell someone about or “disclose” their disability in order to receive services or accommodations at work. It is important that families understand this shift and help their young adult consider how and when to disclose their disability to employers.

What is Disability Disclosure?

Disability disclosure is when an individual with a disability chooses to tell another person about their disability. This does not mean the individual needs to share every personal detail about their disability. When thinking about disability disclosure in the workplace, it involves sharing information that demonstrates how the disability impacts the person’s ability to do the job and what accommodations are needed in order to work effectively.

Deciding Whether or Not to Disclose a Disability (Why Disclose?)

Individuals with disabilities are not required to tell their employer or anyone else that they have a disability. If accommodations aren’t needed, then there is generally no reason to disclose. However, if a young adult needs to receive accommodations at work to carry out the essential functions of the job, then they must tell their employer about their disability in order to receive the necessary supports. For example, someone with ADHD may disclose their disability to their employer and request to work in an office with a door in order to minimize distractions. An individual with vision loss may choose to disclose their disability and request technology that can help them work on a computer more effectively.

There are advantages and disadvantages to disability disclosure. When someone discloses their disability, it provides the opportunity to receive accommodations that will help them complete required job responsibilities. However, young adults may also be nervous to share personal information when they are unsure how their employer or coworkers will respond. Some employers may not have worked with many people with disabilities, and the individual may fear that their employer will have a negative view of them after they disclose their disability.

The following list of potential advantages and disadvantages of disability disclosure is adapted from the “411 on Disability Disclosure” workbook by the National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability:

Advantages of disclosure:

Concerns About Disclosure:

When and How to Disclose

If a person makes the decision to disclose a disability to a potential or current employer, there are many times at which it can be done. The disability could be disclosed in an application cover letter, during a job interview, or after a position is offered. It is helpful if the young adult discloses their disability and asks for accommodations before any performance issues occur. Regardless of the timing of the disclosure, the individual should also highlight the abilities they bring to the job, not just their disability.  

Every employer will have its own policies on who it is best to disclose to and how to request accommodations. Depending on the size of the organization, young adults may disclose their disability to their supervisor or a human resources department. Once the disclosure takes place, an “interactive process” between the individual and the employer will determine what accommodations are reasonable based on the job requirements, individual needs, and potential hardship to the employer. This may happen through an informal discussion or a formalized process.

Accommodations that youth received in high school do not automatically carry over to employment settings. Prior to disclosing their disability to an employer, young adults should consider the accommodations they need to be successful on the job. A discussion of accommodations that were effective in school or career exploration settings can be part of the interactive process with the employer.

Some youth or young adults may want to practice their disclosure skills with a teacher, vocational rehabilitation counselor, or a case worker from an employment program before actually applying for employment. These professionals can help youth identify potential job accommodations and practice interview responses.

What Parents Can Do to Help Youth Learn to Disclose their Disability Effectively

Families can help youth to understand the importance of disclosure and work to prepare them to disclose appropriately when they are ready for employment. It is important for youth and young adults to practice disclosing with people they respect and trust, and who are familiar with their needs and strengths. Following are tips for parents to help youth be prepared to disclose their disability to an employer and ask for needed accommodations: