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Encouraging Disability Disclosure at Work – How to Ask the Question

Discussing disability at work can be one of the most challenging aspects of inclusive employment, in particular when a disability is hidden or invisible. Disclosure – making a disability known or revealing a hidden disability – is fraught with anxiety for all parties. O’Herlihy Access Consultancy’s tips for encouraging disclosure will help you to tackle this sensitive issue.

1. Create a disability-friendly atmosphere
Choosing whether to disclose a disability can cause additional worry for disabled applicants as they weigh up the perceived pros and cons. Disability is complex and influenced by many factors such as personality, type of disability, self-identity and previous experiences.

Employers can create a workplace culture where disclosure is embraced by asking all employees whether their needs are being accommodated and opening up discussions about supports available in the workplace at every possible opportunity; application webpage, in advertising, marketing on social media, interview, induction, etc.

2. Train managers and staff to be disability-confident
Educating managers and supervisors to be able to deal with disclosure and disability as it arises ensuring that yours is a company that values difference. You will attract the top talent if you establish a positive to disability and diversity approach. Disability inclusion benefits everyone in the organisation. Disability is the only ground under Irish equality legislation where reasonable accommodations must be provided so it benefits all staff to be prepared and ready to have those discussions.

3. Clarify what information you need
It can be useful for employers when thinking about disclosure to consider what disclosure means. Usually we look for the name or category of disability but what does that information really tell us? As responsible employers, we seek to encourage the disclosure of a disability straight away to avoid any potential problems or perceived discrimination.

But to do that effectively, we need to focus on: finding out the impact of the disability on the potential or current employee; how someone with a disability will do the job; and what supports or accommodations are there to bridge the gaps between the impact of the disability and the employee’s performance.

Clarify whether you will provide a definition of disability (beware there are multiples definitions in Irish equality legislation!), whether you will seek the disclosure anonymously or request names, whether you will list different disabilities or leave a blank text box and set out why you want the information.

4. Establish how the information will be used/stored/shared
Create a disclosure policy or reasonable accommodations policy and share it widely. Clarify who will have access to the information, where it will be stored and how the information will be used. There is a fear amongst candidates with disabilities that they would be treated differently if they disclose. It is also common for others to use someone’s disability to describe them which should be discouraged at every stage. A good example of a simple explainer to the process can be found at this link: Public Service document on What to Expect for applicants with disabilities

5. Outline employee benefits of disclosure
People with disabilities might want to make their employer aware but are afraid of any negative consequences or stigma that might arise. Anticipate the “what’s in it for me?” question and have an appropriate response. Essentially, disclosure is required to be able to request supports for an employee with a disability.

6. Provide a variety of ways to disclose
Provide multiple avenues for people to tell you about their disability. Offer an email, phone number or text number with a specific designated contact person listed in the country where you are recruiting. We could be surprised if an applicant arrives for interview with a visible disability or using a wheelchair but if we don’t ask the question, we will never be able to prepare to include.

7. Guiding rules for Disclosure

If you would like to know more about encouraging disclosure at work or advice in relation to making your business and employment more inclusive, please do not hesitate to contact one of our team on (01) 415 12 85 or e-mail [email protected]