There’s a gap in Chuck Ryan’s personal timeline. His last conscious memory is of walking across a parking lot one evening in 1987 to his waiting motorcycle.
He remembers nothing about the crash, only bits and pieces of information from what others have told him. He has no recollections until six weeks later when he woke up in the brain injury ward of a Twin-Cities hospital.
To look at him today, you’d have no idea that he has a disability. A brain injury is invisible, one of many disabilities that are not immediately obvious. Long-term illnesses including cancer or diabetes, mental illness like bipolar disorder and depression, learning disabilities, and many others are also considered invisible disabilities. For Ryan and others with invisible disabilities the very nature of the disability raises an important question about disability and employment:
What to disclose, and to whom? Ryan’s injury prevented him from returning to his family-owned business. After working his way through management courses and earning an MBA at the University of St. Thomas, he felt he was ready to seek a teaching position at another institution. That’s when the disclosure issue emerged.
“One of the more challenging aspects of my recovery was the inability to control my emotions,” Ryan said. He describes a tendency to have “emotional outbursts” and “anger issues.” These in turn led to an incident that resulted in a guilty plea on a misdemeanor charge. That meant Ryan had both a disability and a criminal record, neither of which he disclosed when applying for a teaching position.
Not too surprisingly, a routine background check revealed his criminal record, and the institution declined to hire Ryan to teach. Ryan tells this story to illustrate a point. One of the most difficult decisions an individual with a non-obvious disability has to make is whether to inform people, particularly a prospective employer. How much information should you share? There are no hard rules and no easy answers— and for some, the very question is one that induces fear.
Ryan’s involvement with the criminal justice system added a layer of complexity to his job search issues. But he believes that his brain injury is the most salient factor in his experience. Without the injury, the emotional outbursts would never have occurred. The two things are intertwined
Public Forum to Explore Disclosure Issues
Ryan will share his story publicly at a public forum, Disability Disclosure for Employment and Community Integration The forum is 1-6 p.m. Wednesday, June 27 at the Roseville Public Library, 2180 North Hamline Ave., Roseville.
Cindy Held Tarshish of Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Minnesota is the keynote speaker. Her address will focus on ADA Title I. She will review many of the difficult legal, ethical and practical issues involving disability disclosure and employment.
“I hear from people about this topic every day,” Tarshish said. “People call me from their cars, on their way to an interview, wondering whether to disclose or not.”
Clearly there’s a lot of uncertainty, even fear, about whether to disclose a disability to an employer. But Tarshish said that in some ways there’s no cause for fear or uncertainty. The law is clear and unambiguous.
From a legal and practical standpoint, there’s no obligation to disclose a disability during the interview process. There are only a few practical reasons to disclose during employment.
• If a workplace accommodation is needed to perform a job, the job applicant needs to disclose the impairment that makes the accommodation necessary.
• A job applicant may need to disclose if he or she have to explain some form of behavior caused by the disability.
• A job applicant may want to disclose a disability to an employer who offers additional benefits to employees who have disabilities.
• Another factor to consider is that some employers may ask employees to voluntarily disclose a disability in order to help them meet affirmative action goals.
Tarshish will also serve as moderator for a panel consisting of employers, employees, and job developers who have varying—and sometimes divergent—experiences with disclosure in the workplace.
The forum will also offer an opportunity for members of the public to share personal stories about disability disclosure, either as people with disabilities or as prospective employers who are in a position to offer jobs.
The forum is jointly sponsored by four statewide disability organizations: State Rehabilitation Council—General; Vocational Rehabilitation Services; State Rehabilitation Council—Blind; and Statewide Independent Living Council.
The event is free and all are welcome. Accommodations will be provided. The Roseville Library is on a bus line. Contact Metro Transit at (612) 373-333 for information or visit www.metrotransit.org Questions about the forum can be directed to Gail Lundeen, (651) 259-736, [email protected]