How should I disclose my disability to an employer?

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Disability_symbols_16Geoff at Bellevue College asked:

“I have a severe hearing impairment. I communicate well face-to-face, but talking over the phone is very difficult. What, if anything, should I disclose on my resume in regards to my disability?”

Great question, Geoff!

For those who don’t interact with differently-abled folks on a regular basis, talking about disability is still a little taboo and uncomfortable. As a potential employee with a disability, it’s your responsibility to be the expert on your body and know what you need in order to thrive in the workplace.

An employer will rely on you to be the authority and help them navigate the world of equal access and accommodations. The first step on that journey is to let them know you have a disability. There is no hard and fast answer to this, and you’ll have to use your best judgment to decide when disclosing will not put you at a disadvantage.

Disclose on the resume?

Your resume is your marketing document, your highlight reel, your ticket to getting invited in for an interview. Adding Hearing Impaired in the list with your profile or introduction may do more harm than good. You haven’t given the employer any additional information, and they may not understand how your disability will impact your ability to work.  Their focus may be on the fact you have a disability, and you don’t want to add anything to your resume that will detract from or overshadow your qualifications.

Instead of labeling yourself outright as hearing impaired, use your resume as the first opportunity to describe your disability and demonstrate your value to the company. If you’re active or have volunteered in hearing-impaired associations, or are fluent in American Sign Language, don’t hesitate to add these experiences and skills. A smart interviewer might put 2 and 2 together, but describing your disability through empowerment, skills and personality is better than sticking a label across your forehead.

In order to avoid phone interviews, you can add TEXT ONLY next to your phone number, or leave it off entirely. If you’re familiar with teletypewriters (TTY) you can use 711 relay services online or over the phone, which will intercept and relay calls for you. Demonstrate to employers your way of communicating, and how effective it can be even without the option of traditional phones.

… At the interview?

True story: A woman with multiple sclerosis came in for an interview. Her movement was labored and she walked with a cane. She handed each of the interviewers a small toy turtle, and said: “I’m a little slow getting around, but like the tortoise, I always cross the finish line. Slow and steady wins the race!” Not only did she use humor to lighten the mood and make herself more personable, she addressed her disability and stressed the fact that it doesn’t keep her from getting the job done.

The interview is your chance to quell any hesitations or concerns a future employer might have about your abilities. Even if you’re confident communicating face to face without an interpreter, the interview may still be a good time to disclose as long as it’s not to your disadvantage. During an interview, you’re able to quickly answer any questions, reassure the interviewers with your confidence, and you can demonstrate your authority on what accommodations you’ll need.

…Once employed?

If you require accommodations, you’ll need to disclose your disability during negotiations to ensure you have what you need on your starting day. Utilize your campus disability support office, if you haven’t already, to be an expert on what accommodations you’ll need and how much they will cost you or your employer.

If your disability does not interfere with your duties and is not readily apparent to your co-workers, you may not need to disclose at all. However, this could be troublesome down the line if your duties change or your hearing impairment worsens. This may force a disclosure in the future.

For more information on job-seeking with a disability, I recommend Career Opportunities for Students with Disabilities (COSD) which connects schools and employers in an effort to improve employment rates among differently abled students. Your career and disability support services at your school can also provide great information and direction, in addition to articles here at on the same subject.

Focus on what you can do, not what you struggle with. Stay positive, upbeat and enthusiastic!

Good Luck out there, Geoff!


About the Author

Esme Smith

Esme received her M.A. In Counseling from St. Edward's University, and worked with students at Concordia University Texas' Career Center. She developed a passion for Career Counseling after leaving undergrad without much guidance, and grappling with unsatisfying work. She strives to help others bridge the gap between graduation and "the real world."

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