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 with 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 does not 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.”


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?


3 comments on “When do you call yourself disabled, and when do you admit it to others?

  1. I have no idea if that question exists on US applications, but I’m thinking it doesn’t. Here is seems that to get help at work as disabled you have to have a dr willing to say you are disabled, same with school. I would tend to agree disclose as little as possible as late as possible. Keep it on a need to know basis, to avoid discrimination.

    I go back and forth on “considering myself disabled”, I’m in school again and I did finally decide that I’m disabled and visit the disability services in order to obtain some accommodations to help me get through school. Even so, I have a hard time considering myself disabled. When I discussed things with the coordinator at disability services she told me not to discuss my disabilities with my instructors beyond the discussion of what I need. It’s none of their business. I’ve not really stuck to that totally, but I’ve not given them all the details either. I have one instructor that knows I have migraines but doesn’t know all else that goes along with them (mainly because I had to explain the sunglasses to her before I even got the accommodations), and she’s pointed it out in the class a couple of times. Unlike others that have gone out of their way to ensure that the fact that I have disability accommodations is no one’s business, she’s pointed it out in class (something that is beyond inappropriate and probably illegal). I have debated how to deal with it, and whether to deal with it.

  2. That’s outrageous! It is difficult to decide what to address and what to let slide. Pick your battles! When I worked for a college I had an appointment with the occupational health therapist. She said, “Oh Fibromyalgia really is the in vogue condition. Back in the 80s everyone wanted ME.” I am still angered by it and I really wish I’d challenged her instead of being startled and saying nothing.

    Yes, I’m starting to think staying quiet is the way forward. Able bodied until proven disabled!

  3. Pingback: Making changes and staying still |

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