When do you call yourself disabled, and when do you admit it to others?

If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all. That’s what we’re taught, right? But as with many of life’s lessons, there are two sides to every story and I tend to go with the line that honesty is the best policy.

Last week was Diversity Week and I took an (unsurprisingly) active role in the promotion of this at work by arranging a talk from a disability charity. A spokesperson from the charity came and talked about the high number of disabled people that are unemployed and encouraged us to push through the barriers and think about innovative ways to work withย and for people with disabilities.

When it comes to Fibromyalgia and the word ‘disability’, I always get a bit of a mixed reaction. Some ask me if I personally consider myself to have a disability – regardless of diagnosis – which is a very PC approach and one I have no problem with. In fact, it often sparks an interesting discussion. Others encourage me to see it as a disability, suggesting that if my day-to-day duties are impacted by my condition then it should be treated as a disability and I should push for that recognition. Again, this is an interesting conversation to have. Others, and I quote, have said, “Really? A disability? *sneer* But you do know that some doctors don’t even believe it exists, right?” Funnily enough, this response doesย notย warrant further discussion in my book. (Sure, I’ll address the topic of ‘belief’ but only if you’re sensitive in your approach.)

The talk on disability raised a number of interesting issues, but the most interesting of them all was this: when do you disclose your disability on a job application form?

Image from BBC
Image from BBC

Now the general consensus of my ‘community’ (ie. friends, family and fellow fibro sufferers) is that you think about yourself on your worst day and answer questions based on that. Say it like it is and do it early on so that you’ve got support from the word ‘go’. I was stunned to hear that my charity spokesperson disagreed. In fact, he advised quite the opposite.

The guy who spoke to us has a physical disability of his own; he said he wished the world was different but discrimination is rife within recruitment and he suggested keeping your disability confidential for as long as possible. Based on his own experience, he suggested the following:

  • Don’t disclose your disability on the application form assuming you can complete the interview without needing additional support
  • If your disability is visible then address it at interview by giving examples of ways it won’t prevent you from doing the job
  • If it isn’t visible then don’t mention it at interview
  • Disclose your disability as late as possible, even if this means waiting until you’ve started the job.

This advice really surprised me. What would you do?

Before you answer that, I have another little anecdote to share. When I worked for a company who will remain nameless, I recruited a disabled person. That person required certain bits of special equipment to enable her to do her job. The equipment was relatively expensive but Access to Work provides employers with extensive financial support in situations like this. However, when I spoke to a member of staff in my HR team they said, “Oh do we have to buy all this? Check her application form because if she didn’t disclose it at application stage we’re not obliged to provide any additional support.”

WHAT?!

I mean, that response is horrendous. Obviously. But it also panicked me and I have disclosed some form of disability or physical condition on every job application form since.

I welcome your thoughts. Do you disclose? Is honesty really the best policy when it comes to your career?