How to react when an employee discloses a disability

One time in a job interview, the hiring supervisor requested me to inform them about myself. “Inform me about your self” all the time looks like a loaded query. What, and the way a lot, am I supposed to share? I advised them about my time in legislation college, the areas of apply I used to be taken with, and a bit about my work as an writer and author. The hiring supervisor was intrigued about what I wrote about, and I discussed I wrote about autism and disability from a first-person lens. The subsequent query was why I didn’t explicitly point out I used to be autistic in my résumé.

One other time, I used to be particularly interviewed for a place as a result of of my disability (we have been launched via a mutual connection), and the particular person in control of hiring was asking for recommendation as a result of they’d a neurodivergent youngster. I wished to speak about my profession targets and aspirations, uncertain how to keep away from giving recommendation about supporting a younger particular person I had by no means met. 

How and when I (or different disabled job candidates and workers) disclose disability is a extremely individualized, private determination. We rehash the dialog again and again in our minds attempting to work out the very best methods to advocate for ourselves. There are several reasons someone might share they have a disability at work: They want a cheap lodging that they’re entitled to beneath the Individuals with Disabilities Act; to clarify a gap in work history; they’re looking for acceptance from colleagues; and need to deliver their full, genuine selves to work. 


However how that dialog goes can fluctuate tremendously. It could actually go the best way my previous experiences did, stuffed with curiosity and extra, typically surprising questions which may not be associated to the explanation behind the disclosure. It might be a supervisor is listening intently, occupied with their legal responsibility, or staying silent attempting to course of new data.

There won’t be one excellent means to react, however there are 4 issues that are extraordinarily useful to consider after somebody chooses to disclose a disability to you:

Pay attention

Generally, a disclosure dialog occurs in a one-on-one assembly, a variety and inclusion assembly, or in the course of the interview course of. It is likely to be deliberate, resembling a assembly with HR to start a formal lodging course of, or it is likely to be unplanned, resembling in the event you’re asking why work wasn’t accomplished on time and an employee shares a cognitive impairment as a part of their rationalization.

The primary aim is to pay attention, and ask your self: Why is that this particular person sharing this data with me?” Is it due to an present drawback, to construct belief, to deliver authenticity to the work surroundings, to ask for assist, or another excuse utterly? Preserve the “why” behind your thoughts so you’ll be able to finest be supportive when it’s time for you to react. Contemplate whether or not it will likely be acceptable to supply modification or lodging options, or direct them to essentially the most useful particular person in HR. 

Don’t be judgmental

One of many issues that may catch us off guard is judgment, which frequently takes the type of extra questions, or seemingly well-intentioned microaggressions. A few of the most irritating issues that I’ve heard when explaining my disability to an employer are feedback like: “However you don’t look autistic,” “I by no means would have guessed in the event you didn’t inform me,” or making a comparability between my autism and that of one other autistic particular person, saying I’m “increased functioning” (which is dangerous because it denies me assist I might have, and denies the opposite particular person alternatives due to their perceived deficits). That is a widespread expertise for many individuals with “invisible” disabilities which have a diploma of passing or masking concerned.

Relying in your relationship (private {and professional}), the particular person is likely to be snug answering observe up questions, however err on the aspect of warning when it comes to asking for extra private data.


Disclosure at work is a susceptible factor, typically requiring planning, self-advocacy, and bracing ourselves for any sort of response. A microaggression or judgmental response can put a disabled employee in an awkward place, deciding whether or not to silently observe the slight or to advocate for themselves extra forcefully. As an example, after introducing myself to a new colleague at work, they advised me how inspirational my story was and the way they’d by no means have guessed I used to be autistic. I felt like I had to smile and say “thanks,” regardless of their ableist remarks.

In distinction, responding in a optimistic means permits me to share freely and procure assist if wanted. This often takes the type of a easy comment alongside the traces of “thanks a lot for telling me” to affirm belief, or an “I’m glad you shared that with me” or saying one thing that conveys empathy or that possibly this extra data defined one thing or clarified one thing for you. 

Provide assist, if acceptable

When you actually aren’t positive what to do within the second, that’s okay. Generally listening and offering assurance is sufficient. When you don’t have all of the solutions, regroup and realize it’s okay to allow them to know you’ll get again to them. You may have the opportunity to join the employee with somebody in human assets who has extra solutions. When you’re with a small enterprise or there isn’t a HR division, among the best assets on the market for disability lodging assist and options is The Job Accommodation Network

When providing assist, observe the lead of the particular person disclosing and check out not to fall into the well-intentioned entice of benevolent ableism, the place you supply assist when it’s neither wished nor wanted. What makes this so tough is it robs folks of company and the flexibility to make their very own choices.To observe our lead, ask how one can be supportive. The reply may shock you. Maybe the particular person disclosing will ask to launch a formal lodging course of, or they may use the prospect to launch a dialog about how they work finest.

Once I disclose my disability, I by no means actually know what to count on from particular person to particular person, however each present of allyship from a supervisor all the time makes me really feel empowered and infinitely much less nervous.

On the receiving finish, it’s best to really feel empowered as properly. The extra data you obtain from a disclosure can assist you make sure that your colleague has the instruments they want to succeed and feels included as a part of the staff. 

Haley Moss is an autistic legal professional, writer, and neurodiversity advocate.