I am a late-diagnosed autistic adult, and I have ADHD, Bipolar II, OCD, and generalized anxiety. I also have dermatillomania, or skin picking disorder, and my information processing abilities rank 13th percentile. Physically, I have substantial hearing loss in both ears. This article focuses on lessons I learned as I searched for employment. I now work in project management as part of a large financial institution.
Should you disclose disability in the workplace?
With disability disclosure, I wish I had a one-size-fits-all answer, but I don’t. Fact is, you may not know what influenced a hiring manager’s decision and, as a candidate, it is important to consider how best to present yourself and to consider what you are prepared to share (and at what time).
My Choice: I always disclosed during the application process, starting with the “I have a disability” checkmark on the application itself. I know I cannot be successful without accommodations. My diagnoses are also plastered around the internet through my content and podcasts, easily accessible to any search. Not everyone is comfortable with disclosure so early in the process, and that’s okay too. I think it’s important to note that I have a wide audience that follows my autism and disability related content. I also utilize my network in job searching, so they are aware.
A risk with disclosure is potentially limited exposure the reviewer has to neurodivergence. Popular media can be problematic. If you’re applying for a customer-centric role, and the reviewer only knows autistic traits via Sheldon Cooper on Big Bang Theory, there is potential that your application could be dismissed immediately. If the reviewer has a neurodivergent family member, they may know positives of the diagnosis. It’s out of your control which of infinite situations could arise.
Also worth considering is whether you can (or want to) perform the job without accommodations. Masking has proven to take a heavy toll on mental health. I lost a couple of jobs prior to my current employer for disability-related reasons. I then required intensive therapy for years to process related trauma and still have mental health struggles from 7 years ago.
- Know what you need: If you choose to disclose and request accommodations, the company may not know the best options for you. Be prepared to inform management and HR what accommodations you need. This blog has some common workplace accommodations.
- Be aware of benefits: In the United States, employment is intertwined with healthcare. Whether you disclose or not, be aware of how an insurance change fit healthcare needs. If you have an established therapist, are they still in-network? If you have medication, is it still covered? Can their PTO structure fit your needs? Exceptions to insurance plans many not be available, so be careful of impact.
- Stress what you bring to the job: Unfortunately and realistically, you are likely competing against candidates without disability-related needs. Make sure that while you are informing a company about what you need to be successful that you are also stressing why you are best fit for the position and what you can bring to the company. This may be explaining why neurodivergence can be a strength for the company as a whole, but also be sure to comment on your fit to the skills they need for the position.
- Consider Neurodiversity Programs: Neurodiversity hiring programs tend to be for more entry-level individuals and tend to be structured as an internship or internship-to-hire program. They may include augmented interview processes and a greater emphasis on providing accommodations for neurodivergent conditions. So, not all neurodiversity programs are created equal. However, they can be well-organized and a safe way into employment. I entered my current position through a neurodiversity apprenticeship. It allowed me a path from fast food to corporate employment, specifically by providing an interview route that focused on what I could bring to the position, rather than my social skills and presentation.
About the Author
Becca Alley is on the LiNC-IT program Steering Committee, ASNC Self-Advocates Advisory Board, and provides consultant support to UNC TEACCH. She has a full-time job at a large financial institution as the Global Head of Project Management Office (PMO) Training Centre.
Tags: autism, autism behavior, autism communication, autism employment, autism support, Developmental disability, disability disclosure