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Disability Services-Self Disclosure and Self Advocacy in the Workplace

Find three accommodations in this room and hallway that have been made for me since my injury 5 years ago.  You can look around.
Other accommodations I have requested in my workplace?

1.  Did I disclose my injury?
2.  Should you disclose your injury?
3.  Is there a "right" time to disclose a disability?
4.  Who did I disclose my injury too?
5.  You should always be positive when disclosing a disability?  T-F
6.  Who should you disclose to?
7.  The best way to be your advocate is?
8.  Self disclosure can improve your own self image?  T-F
9.  Restructuring a job is an example of a accommodation?  T-F
10.Good self advocacy does NOT empower people and allow them access to reasonable accommodations and strategies.  T-F

Click here to our Disability Services webpage.




Self Disclosure and the Workplace
Why, When, What, and How
*Office of Disability Employment Policy

Every job seeker with a disability is faced with the same decision: "Should I or shouldn't I disclose my disability?" This decision may be framed differently depending upon whether you have a visible disability or a non-visible disability. Ultimately, the decision of whether to disclose is entirely up to you.

Why Disclose in the Workplace?

When you leave school and enter the workforce, many aspects of your life change. Among the many differences, is the requirement to share information about your disability if you want your employer to provide you with reasonable accommodations. In school if you had an individualized education program (IEP), as required under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), information about your disability and the accommodations you needed followed you from grade to grade. When you enter the workforce, the IDEA no longer applies to you. Instead, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act protect you from disability-related discrimination and provide for meaningful access. The laws require that qualified applicants and employees with disabilities be provided with reasonable accommodations. Yet, in order to benefit from the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act, you must disclose your disability. An employer is only required to provide work-related accommodations if you disclose your disability to the appropriate individuals.

Disclose a Disability Only as Needed
The only reason to disclose a disability is if you require an accommodation for an interview or to perform the essential functions of a particular job. Your resume and cover letter should focus on the abilities you bring to the job, not on your disability.

When to Disclose Your Disability

There is no one "right" time or place to disclose your disability. Select a confidential place in which to disclose, and allow enough time for the person to ask questions. Do not dwell on the limitations of your disability. You should weigh the pros and cons of disclosure at each point of the job search, recruitment, and hiring process and make the decision to discuss your disability when it is appropriate for you.
Consider the following stages:

-In a letter of application or cover letter;
-Before an interview;
-At the interview;
-In a third-party phone call or reference;
-Before any drug testing for illegal drugs;
-After you have a job offer;
-During your course of employment; or

How to Disclose your Disability

Preparation is essential for disclosing your disability. Effective disclosure requires that you discuss your needs, and that you provide practical suggestions for reasonable job accommodations, if they are needed. One way to become comfortable with discussing your disability is to find someone you trust and practice the disclosure discussion with that person. The two of you can put together a disclosure script. It should contain relevant disability information and weave in your strengths. Always keep it positive!

What to Disclose About Your Disability

There is no required information to share about your disability. In fact, it will be different for everyone. For example, if you have an apparent disability it is often beneficial to address how you plan to accomplish tasks required by the job. This can affirm to the employer that you are suited for the position. Additionally, by demonstrating your own ease and comfort with the job requirements, you can relay to employers other traits that are desirable in an applicant. A person with a hidden disability, on the other hand, will first need to decide whether to disclose the disability, and subsequently determine what information to share about the disability. Generally, if you choose to disclose, it is most helpful to share the following:
-General information about your disability;
-Why you are disclosing your disability;
-How your disability affects your ability to perform key job tasks;
-Types of accommodations that have worked for you in the past; and
-Types of accommodations you anticipate needing in the workplace;

To Whom to Disclose Your Disability

Disclose your disability on a "need-to-know" basis. Provide further details about your disability as it applies to your work-related accommodations to the individual who has the authority to facilitate your accommodation request. Consider disclosing to the supervisor responsible for the hiring, promoting, and/or firing of employees. This person needs to be informed of your disability-related needs to provide the necessary supports and judge your job performance fairly.

Advantages of Disclosure
-You will be able to receive reasonable accommodations to pursue work, school, or community activities more effectively.
-It allows other professionals (educators, employment service providers, etc.) to assist the young people with learning new skills.
-It provides legal protection against discrimination (as specified in the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act).
-It can improve self-image by developing self-advocacy skills. Disadvantages of Disclosure
-It can lead to the experience of exclusion or being treated differently than others.
-It can lead to being viewed as needy, not self-sufficient, or unable to perform on par with peers.
-It can be difficult and embarrassing.

Disclosure Protections and Responsibilities

As a person with a disability, you have disclosure protections as well as significant responsibilities to yourself and to your employers.

You are entitled to:
-Have information about your disability treated confidentially and respectfully;
-Seek information about hiring practices from any organization;
-Choose to disclose your disability at any time during the employment process;
-Receive reasonable accommodations for an interview;
-Be considered for a position based on your skill and merit; and
-Have respectful questioning about your disability for the purpose of determining whether you need accommodations and if so, what kind.
You have the responsibility to:
-Disclose your need for any work-related reasonable accommodations;
-Bring your skills and merits to the table
-Be truthful, self-determined, and proactive

Self Advocacy in the Workplace

The greatest power is love
The greatest comfort is kindness
The greatest resolution is self knowledge
*Author unknown

Self Advocacy—is knowing what you want, knowing what you do well and what you have difficulty doing. Self advocacy is knowing your rights and your needs and expressing that information to the appropriate person.

An effective self advocate must be able to determine the optimum time to make their request(s), recognize an adverse reaction to the request and/or determine if the person receiving the request understands the need and suggested solution. 

Good self advocacy empowers people and allows them access to reasonable accommodations and strategies.

Becoming a good self advocate is a process. Ideally advocacy skills begin development in middle school. As needs and focus change so should self advocacy skills.

Be able to identify yourself by your strengths—I do ____ well, I am comfortable _____, I know _______, It works well for me when ________.

Understand your disability and how it impacts your performance. This may require support and assistance from professionals, family members and other adults with learning disabilities. A good place to start is contacting someone from the Adult Issues Committee of LDA of America or your local LDA affiliate office.

Familiarize yourself with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehab Act. Know and understand the protections these laws do or do not provide.

Get help determining what accommodations (external aids), strategies (personal changes or modifications) and technology (gadgets) will help you. The Job Accommodations Network (JAN) is a federally funded resource that offers individualized information packets, employer information and answers questions about accommodations. Ph: 1-800-526-7234 or http://www.jan.wvu.edu/.

Identify who you will discuss your needs with in the workplace. This should be a personal choice made after considering the company policies, the personalities and who actually needs to know. One logical person might be your direct supervisor but the choice should be made carefully and with input from your support circle.

Know what you want and how you are going to ask for it before you begin a first conversation. Practice, practice, practice. One strategy that has proven helpful, is role playing the discussion about what your disability is and what strategies, accommodations and technology helps overcome the problem. It is in your best interest to come with suggestions and solutions rather than expecting the employer to figure out what helps. (Washington State Learning Disabilities Project, 1990)

Update and Reevaluate. Be up front sharing how much the accommodation and changes worked. Be sure to find out how it has impacted your employer. (Sometimes what started as an accommodation for one, actually improves performance for many). Don’t forget to say thank you for your support, yes it’s the law but a little appreciation goes a long way.

Making the facilities used by employees structurally accessible to, and usable by, people with disabilities.
Restructuring jobs.
Modifying work schedules.
Reassigning a person with a disability to an equivalent job when one becomes available.
Buying or modifying equipment or devices so that they can be used by people with disabilities.
Providing appropriate adjustment or modification of exams, training materials or policies.
Providing readers for the blind or interpreters for the deaf.
Difficulty reading materials
(memos, e-mails, etc)
-Assign a reader - use company microphone
-Highlight important/vital info
-Record info onto individual’s voice mail

Difficulty following sequences
-Teach the steps slowly and in order
-Use markers, color coding, charts and patterns
-Allow time for practice
-Develop diagrams or flow charts

Difficulty managing time
-Use computer, desk calendar, personal alarm (watch, pager)
-Help set priorities and give adequate warning of changes

Trouble Walking??? Help me with this one!

Easily Distracted
-Ask to be in a less distracting place, away from passageways, doors, excess noise and movements.
-Ask to take shorter but more frequent breaks…2 - minute stretches
-Hang a “Busy”, No interruptions Sign

Poor Memory
-Use your own voice-say it again
-Use sticky notes
-Use rhymes, chants, songs, rhythm
-Pictures—draw it, visualize it,
-Journals, binders, calendars, computer minders

Self Advocacy Tips:

Self advocacy is much like speaking up for yourself.
-The best way to be your own advocate is to practice.

To advocate for yourself effectively in the process, you need to think about...

Advocacy Points Possible Questions
Define what you need- Do I really need this?
Know what your rights are-What do the rules say about this?
Know the system and procedures-What are the steps in this process?
Know your resources-Who can help me, and who makes decisions?
Keep good records-Do I need this in writing?

As a client of DRS (Dept. of Human Services), you should expect to:
Be treated with courtesy and respect
Be informed about the services, the process and your responsibilities
Understand the decisions your counselor makes
Receive responses to your questions in a timely manner.

Self-Advocacy Skills:
Be an active participant in the process
Clearly express what your needs are
Set realistic goals for what you want to achieve
Get enough information to make informed choices
Get information about other resources
If necessary, have an advocate, family member, or friend at meetings
If you have difficulty contacting your counselor, ask to speak to their coordinator
If your call is not responded to in a timely manner, or if it is an emergency, ask to speak to the supervisor
If you feel you are not being responded to, writing a letter may be an effective way to communicate
Keep a folder of all program materials, service plans, and correspondence.
Take notes when you attend meetings and document all phone calls.
Any agreed upon service plan or equipment should be put in writing.

Myth Busters For Hiring People with Disabilities

Average cost is under $500
For every dollar spent on accommodation, a company gets back $29.
Providing adaptations costs less than training a replacement.
Employers are only required to make accommodations that are within their fiscal means.
Businesses may be eligible for tax deductions and incentives toward access expenditures.

Insurance rates are based on an organization's accident history, etc., not on whether employees have disabilities.
31% of employers surveyed reported "substantial savings" on insurance costs.

According to 4 studies done by DuPont over a 25 year period, employees with disabilities equaled or surpassed other workers in performance, attendance and safety.

The key phrase is "reasonable accommodation". This indicates that any change in the workplace or in the way things are usually done, to insure ensure equal employment opportunity and does not require undue hardship.
Since discrimination on the basis of disability is against the law, chances of finding yourself the target of litigious claims are greater than for companies who do not hire people with disabilities.

Nearly half of employers surveyed agreed that workers with disabilities have fewer accidents on the job than workers without disabilities.

Almost all employers surveyed reject the argument that workers with disabilities don't fit in with most workers without disabilities.
Two-thirds of the public surveyed say most of their co-workers would have no problems working alongside individuals with disabilities.

Two/thirds of working-age Americans with disabilities surveyed are not employed; of those, two/thirds want to work.
More than three-fourths of department heads/line managers surveyed rate workers with disabilities as equally or more willing to work hard compared to workers without disabilities.

People with disabilities need jobs too. Costs to be self-supporting exceed government allowances.
Only a small portion of the public surveyed think bringing more people with disabilities into the work force will threaten to take jobs from people without disabilities; conversely, more than three/fourths thinks it will be a boost to the nation by taking people off welfare and putting them to work.

Identifying Disability-Friendly Employers

There are some ways in which you can easily identify those employers who positively encourage disabled people to apply for their jobs.  Although employers are bound by the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) to treat you fairly, some have demonstrated that they are particularly positive about employing disabled people.

The points below may help you identify those employers.

The 'two ticks' disability symbol-Click here to view symbol
Some employers make very clear their commitment to employing disabled people by placing the Jobcentre Plus 'two ticks' disability symbol on their job adverts.

This means the employer has made some commitment to employing disabled people. The symbol also means that you are guaranteed a job interview if you meet the minimum conditions for the job.

Equal opportunities policies
Many employers have equal opportunities policies. If so, then the employer will have a certain commitment to recruiting and employing without prejudice. You may feel more comfortable disclosing a disability if the company has declared that it will not discriminate against you on that basis.
An employer may include a statement in a job advert that positively encourages disabled people to apply and states that the employer is clear about their legal responsibilities under the DDA.

Job adverts and application forms
Look out for the following:
is the ‘two ticks’ symbol displayed on adverts and application forms?
has an employer advertised in a wide range of formats, for example, large print or audio tape?
where did you see the advert? Some employers deliberately place adverts in places where disabled people are more likely to see them, such as with a Disability Employment Adviser at a Jobcentre Plus office
are application forms available in different formats?
are arrangements in place that enable candidates to submit forms in the format best suited to them?
are you asked on the application form to say whether any special provisions are required at interview?
is there a section on the application form setting out very briefly their duty as an employer to make adjustments and asking you to comment on any adjustments you think you might need because of disability or a health condition?

Dealing with Discrimination
Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits private employers, state and local governments, employment agencies and labor unions from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities. Hopefully, you will never have to deal with discrimination in an interview. But if you do, here are a few things to remember.
Handle the situation with a positive attitude.
Be an effective self-advocate.
Try to record or write down as much about the situation that you can. (Company name, address and phone number, interviewer's name, date, time, and the discriminating act)
Report the information to The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). A charge may be filed in person or by mail. To be automatically connected to the nearest EEOC office, call 1-800- 669-4000 (TTY: 1-800-669-6820).


For more information on becoming a self-advocate or getting involved in the civil rights movement of the disability community a list of helpful agencies and documents to assist you in your journey follows. Good luck!

ACT Self-Advocacy Resource Network
(800) 641-0059 (voice)


Freedom Clearinghouse

Go for the Gold: Empowerment for Life
(501) 407-0709

Kids As Self Advocates

National Center on Accessibility
(812) 856-4422 (voice)
(812) 856-4421 (tty)

National Park Service Disability Rights Coordinators

People First of Washington

Self-Advocates Becoming Empowered

Speaking for Ourselves

U.S. Department of Justice
Information on enforcement of the ADA and how to file a complaint under the ADA.
(800) 514-0301 (voice)
(800) 514-0383 (tty)

Links to national resources on advocacy, self-advocacy and disability legislation/policy:


*office chair, lazy boy chair, door paddles, keyboard, rest panel for keyboard, classroom, walker
*webinars, meeting come to me, meet in Cool Beans, now I provide registration at the job fairs, no longer wear a tie

1.  Yes
2.  Up to you
3.  No
4.  Supervisor
5.  T
6.  Need to know basis
7.  Practice
8.  True
9.  True
10. False

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