Disclosure: just that word implies a hidden secret; something serious that may only have negative repercussions when people eventually find out about it. This couldn’t be further from the truth when it comes to disability and employment.

People with additional needs will have inevitably already come across situations where they may choose to officially disclose their condition, e.g. at college, university, work. As a Career Coach, I’m going to focus on the latter, so if you have children who are thinking about applying for their first job, you can share this information with them and hopefully they will find it helpful.

Are you protected by law?

The Equality Act defines disability as ‘a physical or a mental condition which has a substantial and long-term impact on your ability to do normal day to day activities.’ Throughout the whole employment lifecycle (recruitment, training, promotion, etc), the Act is there to protect you from discrimination and to ensure employers give you ‘reasonable’ levels of support so that you get the same opportunities as your colleagues. Most of the time, you don’t have to disclose your condition, but there are a few exceptions. You can talk to the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS), who operate a free helpline if you’re unsure on this.

Pros and cons of disclosing

If you have a condition that is visible to others, it’s possible that you’ll want to address this head-on, either at the start or during a recruitment process, particularly if you have specific needs that your employer can support you with during your working day. If you have a condition that is not visible to others, you might be confused about what to do, unless you feel strongly either way.

As a Career Coach, part of my job entails looking at the pros and cons of this issue with my clients. The cons are the first thing people tend to think about. Generally, clients feel that their disability is part of them but not who they are. I know when I disclosed my Multiple Sclerosis to my employer, I didn’t want colleagues to treat me differently, or to feel like a burden to my manager. Knowing there are a minority of employers that don’t handle private information as they should do can also be off-putting. So, what are the benefits of telling an employer about your condition?

Telling an employer about your condition means you can ask for adjustments at work. You are also protected under the Equality Act. After my diagnosis, I was intent on proving to others that my good performance wouldn’t be affected and that I didn’t need reasonable adjustments. For a while, this was fine. However, in my new role working jam-packed long hours left me with dwindling energy levels. After a while, it became too much and I disclosed my MS and put in a request for my start time to be brought forward slightly to help me manage this. This simple change meant I was able to bring all my energy to the role.

Looking at language differently

I have found that language can be instrumental or detrimental depending on the recipient. ‘Disclosure,’ ‘reasonable adjustments’ – these can be very overwhelming terms, particularly when you are first entering the work environment.

Whilst some organisations are hoping to replace these words with more accessible versions, change takes time. So to help clients prepare, I help them reframe the way they look at these words. For example, instead of ‘disclose’ think of it as informing or sharing. Instead of ‘reasonable adjustments,’ think of these as work adjustments or basic needs.

Is it the right thing to do for you?

When you share your condition, you may feel uncomfortable at first. How you feel will depend on a few things:

  • how much you have prepared,
  • your confidence and strength of feeling that what you’re doing is right for you
  • timing
  • the approachability of the person you’re sharing the personal information with.

When do you tell someone about your condition?

If you’re job-hunting post-diagnosis, it’s important to weigh up how you feel about discussing your condition at different parts of the recruitment process. Many of my clients prefer to wait until they have the employment contract; others will first work in the role to show the employer what they are capable of.

Tips for sharing your condition with employers

  • The decision – take time to consider whether or not sharing your condition is the right thing for you. Make a list of pros and cons to help you make your decision.
  • Prepare – confidence will come from spending time preparing. Think about questions or reactions the employer may have.
  • What do you need? – do you have any concerns about the job in relation to your condition? Are there things the employer can do to help you manage your condition at work? E.g. not scheduling a shift in an evening if you feel better in the mornings, software to help you when you’re tired, etc.
  • Be clear – what are you trying to get across about you and the way you work? Prioritise the key things you want to say.

Those around you may offer advice on what to do, however as it’s you who is carrying out the role, being completely comfortable with your decision is important. Remember that whatever you decide, there are organisations who can support you on employment-related topics, many of which are disability-focused.

Carla King was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 2008. She is a Career Coach and has worked with clients of diverse backgrounds and at different stages of their career. She is also a blogger and often writes about disability in a work context. Check out her blog or follow her on Twitter @CarlaKCoach