Make the recruitment process work in your favour, whatever your disability.

A 2020 report from the House of Commons Library stated that there are around 7.7 million people of working age with disabilities in the UK, 54 per cent of whom are in employment. This compares to an employment rate of 82 per cent for those without disabilities. Clearly there is a discrepancy, but why?

Does sharing information about a disability harm your chances of employment? How should you approach job hunting when you have a disability? Here, we investigate the pros and cons of disclosing disability on a job application and discuss when, if ever, to do so.

Should a disability affect your potential for employment?

Of course, if you're qualified to do the job, your disability should be irrelevant. We're lucky that in the UK we have anti-discrimination legislation designed to protect your rights in this area. Under the Equality Act 2010, disability discrimination is illegal; this includes protection against discrimination in the workplace and through all stages of the employment process.

That said, there are a few reasons that a recruiter is legally allowed to ask about your disability, They include evaluating whether you can carry out essential tasks, monitoring purposes and to increase the number of disabled workers they employ.

Sadly, despite this protection, discrimination does still exist. You will need to carefully consider how you wish to handle disclosing your disability to an employer.   

Should you disclose a disability on a job application?

When it comes to disclosing a disability in the job application process, the only universal advice is that you should do what works best for you. There is no legal requirement that you must inform an employer about a disability, so you shouldn't feel pressured to do so.

If you think disclosing your disability will work in your favour, go for it! If you're worried about the ramifications, don't. Everyone's situation is different, and it's important to weigh up the unique advantages and disadvantages of telling a potential employer about your disability. Consider these points: 

The advantages of telling a potential employer about your disability

There are many benefits to being upfront with potential employers about your disability. An important start is that the employer's initial reaction to hearing of your disability will enable you to easily filter out unsuitable employers for whom you wouldn't wish to work anyway. Here are other reasons disclosing may be a good idea.

You are entitled to adjustments throughout the recruitment process

Assuming that their attitude doesn't make you run straight to their competitors, one of the key reasons for disclosing a disability early in the process is to ensure that the recruiter can put reasonable adjustments in place, if you need them, to enable you to access the interview and the rest of the recruitment process. This is a requirement of the Equality Act and could include such considerations as step-free access, a wheelchair-friendly desk or a sign language interpreter.

If your application is successful, employers will also be able to implement reasonable adjustments in your new working environment. 

You may be able to access additional opportunities 

If you are open about your disability, you may be able to access benefits provided by the Disability Confident scheme, which encourages employers to implement inclusive, accessible recruitment processes, offer interviews to disabled applicants and offer alternative routes into work (e.g. work experience, work trials, apprenticeships, traineeships and internships). By not disclosing your disability, you risk missing out on these valuable opportunities.

You can leverage your disability as a strength

Don't forget that for some roles, your disability may be a strength! Depending on your disability, you may have advantages over non-disabled candidates and therefore should leverage this as early in the recruitment process as possible. For example, charities focussed on disability may look for candidates who are personally invested in their mission.

You can explain career gaps

If you have a career break on your CV due to your disability, you may wish to cover this with a short, honest explanation rather than leaving a gap. After all, would you rather the recruiter drew incorrect conclusions? At worst, they could think you've spent that time drinking cheap beer in the park all day.

If you choose this option, however, do make it clear that you'll be a reliable employee who doesn't make a habit of long-term absences, as that would detract from your positive message. 

The disadvantages of disclosing your disability 

As you may have gathered, there are also disadvantages to disclosing disability during a job search. Consider these:

You may leave yourself open to discrimination 

Despite legislation, some disability discrimination still exists. You could, therefore, be hurting your chances of securing a job you've set your heart on if you're upfront about your challenges. 

You may make the wrong first impression 

Additionally, by disclosing your disability from the start, you risk your first impression being that of 'a disabled person', rather than 'a competent professional'. If you don't need any adjustments throughout the recruitment process, you may do better presenting an uncomplicated application that doesn't mention your disability. That way, you will be judged solely on your merits as a qualified individual for the job. 

You may be seen as a cost to the business

Many employers, particularly smaller ones, may not be up to speed on the legal and practical aspects of disability in the workplace. You may well be more informed in this respect than they are! If all they see are the additional costs associated with employing you, it's easier for them not to progress your application. 

You may not want to

Disability can be a very personal thing. You may not feel comfortable disclosing personal details with a stranger, and you should feel no obligation to do so. If you're able to do the job without accommodations, your disability is irrelevant and nobody needs to know.

When should you disclose a disability?

If you do decide to go ahead and disclose your disability during your job search, timing is everything. Again, there's no one-size-fits-all approach, so when would work best for you?

On your CV?

There is no reason at all to mention your disability on your CV. This document should be entirely focussed on your ability to do the job through your experience, qualifications and results. 

In your cover letter?

If after reading the pros and cons above you've decided to disclose your disability at an early stage, the cover letter is the place to do it. Frame your disability positively, focussing on how you can contribute to a business and your strong track record with previous employers. This will pave the way for discussions on reasonable adjustments at the interview and beyond. 

During an interview?

By this stage, you've already impressed with your CV and cover letter and proven that you're qualified for the job. Disclosing a disability during an interview has the advantage of letting you leverage your personality, which can be difficult to convey in written documents. Plus, you can do it face to face, in your own words and when the time seems right.

When you're offered the job?

If you need any accommodations made for your disability, this is the last chance you'll have to communicate your needs before you start. If you do it any later, your new employer may feel that you haven't been completely honest with them. It also wouldn't be entirely fair to expect changes when you're already settled in ‒ an employer can't reasonably or legally be expected to make accommodations for a disability they have no knowledge of.

Stay in control 

Disclosing a disability is one aspect of the recruitment process over which you have complete control. You can decide if and when to do it, and you can do it on your own terms. When making your plan, it may help to research your target companies first to check out their record on supporting employees with disabilities. If you do decide to go ahead and disclose a disability during your job search, do it confidently and positively to make it as easy as possible for them to employ you.

Nothing should hold you back in your job search, including your CV. Get a free CV review to find out if yours shows you at your best.

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