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Navigating the Decision to Disclose: Why Disclosing Disabilities at Work Can Be Challenging

Updated: Oct 30, 2023

In an ideal world, disclosing a disability at work would be met with understanding, support, and a commitment to making necessary accommodations. Unfortunately, the reality can often be more complex.

A young, black cashier stands smiling at the camera. He is wearing a blue shirt with a green apron and his braces on his teeth are showing as he smiles. Words overlaid read: Navigating the Decision to Disclose: Why Disclosing Disabilities at Work Can Be Challenging

Many individuals with disabilities face significant challenges when it comes to deciding whether or not to disclose their condition in the workplace. Disclosing a disability at work can be a complex and sometimes challenging decision for several reasons:

Fear of Discrimination: Many individuals with disabilities have experienced discrimination or stigma in the past, which can make them hesitant to disclose their disability at work. They may worry about being treated unfairly, facing negative attitudes, or being passed over for opportunities.

Concerns about Stereotypes: There are often stereotypes and misconceptions surrounding disabilities. Some individuals may fear that disclosing their disability will lead to assumptions about their abilities or limitations, potentially impacting their professional growth.

Privacy and Personal Boundaries: Some people consider their disability to be a private matter. They may prefer to keep their personal and professional lives separate and may feel uncomfortable discussing their disability with colleagues or superiors.

Lack of Trust in the Workplace Culture: If a workplace has not demonstrated a commitment to inclusivity and support for employees with disabilities, individuals may be hesitant to disclose. They might worry that the environment is not conducive to their success and well-being.

Concerns about Career Advancement: There may be concerns that disclosing a disability could hinder career advancement. This fear might arise from the assumption that supervisors may perceive a disability as a barrier to taking on more responsibility or leadership roles.

Uncertainty about Accommodations: Some individuals may not be aware of their rights to reasonable accommodations or may be unsure how to request them. They might worry about being a burden or causing inconvenience to their employer.

Previous Negative Experiences: Previous experiences of disclosing a disability that were met with insensitivity or lack of understanding can create apprehension about doing so in a new workplace.

Cultural or Social Factors: Cultural or familial beliefs and attitudes towards disability can play a significant role. Some cultures may view disability differently and may influence an individual's comfort level with disclosure.

Variable Nature of Disabilities: Disabilities can be variable in nature, meaning that an individual may not always require accommodations. They may worry about having to constantly explain or justify their needs.

Lack of Awareness or Education: Some individuals may not fully understand their rights or the resources available to them. They may be unaware of how to navigate the disclosure process.

It's important for employers to create an inclusive and supportive environment where employees feel comfortable disclosing disabilities if they choose to do so. This can be achieved through education, clear policies, open communication, and a demonstrated commitment to diversity and inclusion.

Here are some steps employers can take to support employees who disclose a disability:

  1. Maintain Confidentiality: Ensure that information about an employee's disability is kept confidential. Only share this information with those who need to know for accommodation purposes.

  2. Open Communication: Foster an environment where employees feel comfortable discussing their disabilities. Encourage them to communicate their needs and preferences.

  3. Reasonable Accommodations: Be willing to provide reasonable accommodations to enable employees to perform their job tasks effectively. This might include ergonomic equipment, assistive technology, a modified workspace, or the option to work remotely.

Do you want your employees to feel safe disclosing to you, but aren't sure where or how to start? We can help!

CAN WiN offers FREE accessible recruitment, retention, training, and consulting services for employers in British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Alberta, Manitoba, and Ontario. We recruit for many different career opportunities, from entry to senior-level positions, on behalf of employers who are committed to workforce inclusion of people with disabilities.


Looking for more detailed information on workplace accommodations?

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The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) is the leading source of free, expert, and confidential guidance on job accommodations and disability employment issues. Serving customers across the United States and around the world for more than 35 years, JAN provides free practical guidance and technical assistance on job accommodation solutions, and self-employment and entrepreneurship options for people with disabilities.

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Do you want to be a more inclusive and accessible employer?

Take this 15-minute Disability Inclusive Employer Self-Assessment to gain a deeper understanding of where you’re doing well and where there’s room to improve.

Open Door Group and Presidents Group collaborated on this tool, created from recent international research on practices that truly increase inclusion and retention of people with disabilities in the workplace.


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