To disclose or not to disclose? That is the dilemma facing many people with disabilities as they seek employment. Not surprisingly the June 27 forum on Disability Disclosure for Employment and Community Integration drew more than 100 people to a Roseville Public Library meeting room. Many state agencies, nonprofit service providers, employers and people with disabilities filled the room to learn more and share stories.
Jeff Bangsberg, one of the organizers of the forum, said there’s a need to hear from the community at large. He recalled the days when it was difficult for policy makers to get people to even attend such a forum. The turnout wasn’t surprising given the strong community interest in this topic, he and others noted.
The forum was co-sponsored by the State Rehabilitation Council—General; Vocational Rehabilitation Services; State Rehabilitation Counci—Blind and Statewide Independent Living Council. Kim Peck, director of vocational rehabilitation services, noted that “significant barriers” to employment still remain. One of those is whether people with disabilities should disclose information when seeking a job. “We have an opportunity as well as a responsibility to move the system forward,” Peck said.
She said state officials and members of the four councils needed to hear from community members, so that they could get a better sense of the challenges and how to address them. Keynote speaker Cindy Held Tarshish of Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Minnesota. “You are the people I am all about,” was Tarshish’s opening statement.
She outlined resources for those seeking information about disclosure, and reviewed disclosure issues as they relate to the ADA, affirmative action and federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) regulations. Tarshish also gave examples of policies and what does and doesn’t constitute a disability. Disabilities and disclosure are covered under Title I of the ADA. Its general rule is that “No employer shall discriminate against any qualified individual [with a disability] in regard to any aspect of employment.” That includes all aspects of employment, from recruitment for a job to discharge.
Some of the biggest challenges in disclosure are hidden disabilities, which make up the largest group of disabilities, said Tarshish. These include major health conditions, psychiatric conditions and learning disabilities. Disclosure should be on a need to know basis, said Tarshish. An employee may provide details of a disability, as it applies to work-related accommodations. This disclosure is only made to the individual who is in the position to facilitate the accommodation request. What an employee may disclosure is general information about a disability, why it is being disclosed, how the disability affects ability to perform key work tasks, types of accommodations that have worked in the past and what accommodations are needed in the future.
Accommodations can have side benefits, Tarshish noted. She told one story of a person whose disability required air conditioning in that person’s office. Productivity in that office climbed overall after all of the employees could work in comfort.
Disclosure of a disability is a way to ask for accommodations at a job, and to receive assistance and civil liberties specific to an employee’s needs. Disclosure can also explain an unusual circumstance or phenomenon tied to a specific disability. The positives can be in receiving accommodations and in gaining protection from on-the-job harassment or discrimination. Another possible benefit is that there are many workplaces where a percentage of people with disabilities must be employed there, to comply with government contracts. Disclosure of a hidden disability in that situation can help the employee and employer.
Also, disclosure can give a more accurate picture of the true number of people with disabilities in the workplace. Not everyone should disclose disability. For some, an accommodation may not be needed. In many cases, there are concerns that someone may be misunderstood or discriminated against. There are often reservations of violation of confidentiality. There are also fears that disclosure could lead to a loss in work hours, loss of wages or demotion.