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A job coach’s tips on disclosure in the workplace

What is disclosure

Releasing personal information about yourself for a specific purpose. Today, more job seekers with disabilities are entering the workforce. For persons with disabilities, finding and keeping work is usually no different than for those without disabilities. However, there may be additional things to consider, such as disclosure—if, when and how to tell people about your disability.

Generally, an employer does not have the right to know a person’s confidential medical information, such as the cause of the disability, diagnosis, symptoms or treatment, unless these clearly relate to the accommodation being sought, or the person’s needs are complex, challenging or unclear and more information is needed. In rare situations where a person’s accommodation needs are complex, challenging or unclear, the person may be asked to co-operate by providing more information, up to and including a diagnosis. In such situations, the employer must be able to clearly justify why the information is needed. However, wherever possible, an employer must make genuine efforts to provide needed accommodations without requiring a person to disclose a diagnosis, or otherwise provide medical information that is not absolutely necessary.

When asking for accommodation, the type of information that people may generally be expected to provide includes:

  • That the person has a disability
  • The limitations or needs associated with the disability or a medical condition
  • Whether the person can perform the essential duties or requirements of the job, with or without accommodation
  • The types of accommodation that are needed to allow the person to fulfill the essential duties or requirements of the job
  • Regular updates about when the person expects to come back to work, if they are on leave.

Where more information about a person’s disability is needed, the information requested must be the least intrusive of the person’s privacy, while still giving the employer enough information to make the accommodation.

Disclosure should be in terms of how are you able to do the job.

Responsibilities – For you and the employer

Your responsibilities as an Employee

Duties and responsibilities in the accommodation process
The accommodation process is a shared responsibility. Everyone involved should co-operatively engage in the process, share information and consider potential accommodation solutions. The person with a disability is required to:

  • Make accommodation needs known to the best of their ability, preferably in writing, so that the person responsible for accommodation can make the requested accommodation
  • Answer questions or provide information about relevant restrictions or limitations, including information from health care professionals, where appropriate and as needed
  • Take part in discussions about possible accommodation solutions
  • Co-operate with any experts whose assistance is required to manage the accommodation process or when information is needed that is unavailable to the person with a disability
  • Meet agreed-upon performance standards and requirements, such as job standards, once accommodation is provided
  • Work with the accommodation provider on an ongoing basis to manage the accommodation process
  • Discuss his or her disability only with persons who need to know.

The accommodation provider is required to:

  • Be alert to the possibility that a person may need an accommodation even if they have not made a specific or formal request
  • Accept the person’s request for accommodation in good faith, unless there are legitimate reasons for acting otherwise
  • Get expert opinion or advice where needed (but not as a routine matter)
  • Take an active role in ensuring that alternative approaches and possible accommodation solutions are investigated, and canvass various forms of possible accommodation and alternative solutions
  • Keep a record of the accommodation request and action taken
  • Maintain confidentiality
  • Limit requests for information to those reasonably related to the nature of the limitation or restriction, to be able to respond to the accommodation request
  • Implement accommodations in a timely way, to the point of undue hardship
  • Bear the cost of any required medical information or documentation (for example, the accommodation provider should pay for doctors’ notes, psychological assessments, letters setting out accommodation needs, etc.).

The person seeking accommodation is generally required to advise the accommodation provider that they have a disability, and the accommodation provider is required to take requests for accommodation in good faith. In employment, a person with a mental health disability does not have to meet an onerous standard for initially communicating that a disability exists to trigger the organization’s duty to accommodate. Organizations should limit requests for information to those reasonably related to the nature of the limitation or restriction, to assess needs and make the accommodation.

What are the benefits of disclosing

  • It allows you to receive reasonable accommodation so that you can perform on the job effectively.
  • It provides legal protection against discrimination.
  • It reduces stress, since a lot of energy could be lost trying to protect your disability.
  • It gives clearer picture of what kinds of expectation people may have of your abilities.
  • It ensures that you are getting what you need in order to be successful.
  • It provides access to consider health insurance and other benefits.
  • It provides greater freedom to communicate should you face changes in your particular job situation.
  • It improves your self-image through self-advocacy.
  • It allows you to involve your employers in learning of skills and development of accommodations.
  • It increases your comfort level and confidence.

What are the risks of disclosing

  • It can cause you to face bad experiences leading to loss of employment.
  • It can lead to negative responses from your peers and other staff members.
  • It can cause you to become an object of curiosity.
  • It can lead to your being treated differently than others.
  • It can bring conflicting feelings about your self-image.
  • It can lead to your being viewed as needy, not self-sufficient or unable to perform on par with peers.
  • It could cause you to be overlooked for a job, team, group, or organization.
  • Disclosing personal and sensitive information can be extremely difficult and embarrassing.

The important issue of timing

Should one disclose in an application, or during the interview? When accepting the position? After working in the office and gaining a clearer idea of how the disability may affect performance? Each has its drawbacks and benefits.

With AODA Employment Standards, organizations are adding to the job descriptions or their application process a statement that states ‘If you require accommodation to apply or if selected to participate in an assessment process, please advise Human Resources.’

Interviewers should pose questions that ask:

  • What do you need to be successful at your position?
  • How will you be able to do the job?

Phrase your accommodation needs in terms of what you need to be successful in the workplace.

At this stage, if you say yes to that you need accommodation for the interview –such as extra time to do an assessment, or specific interview requirements, then you are inadvertently disclosing.

But what happens if you don’t need accommodation during the interview stage but will need an accommodation during work?

Option: During the Application stage

Important to differentiate between your need for interview accommodations vs job specific accommodation – at this stage, you are disclosing you need interview accommodations.

Important not to disclose your specific disability.


  • Employers know before interview – can be prepared in knowing how that person can do the job.
  • Disclosing at this time conveys to employer your self-confidence in doing the job.
  • If the organization has had positive experiences with hiring persons with disabilities, then they may be more open to hiring such individuals again.
  • If they have been encouraged to hire a person with a disability your disclosing can be perceived as an excellent opportunity for the organization.


  • Employer can be reluctant to interview if they know of your disability or can be a way of screening people out if you disclose your specific disability.
  • Can interview you without intending to hire.
  • If you specifically disclose, they may feel that you cannot do the job or could cause problems once you have been hired.

Option: During the interview stage


  • Open-minded employers will be interested in seeing how you can do the job duties.
  • It gives you an opportunity to address the employer’s concerns and how you will be able to do a job.
  • The organization may consider doing a working interview to show your abilities.
  • It may make the employer feel comfortable and help them to be proactive on how to make your hiring successful.
  • If you have an employer who is negative it gives you a chance of being judged fairly and to advocate for your skills and way of doing the position.


  • For biased interviewers, may feel that you were dishonest for not disclosing at the application phase.
  • May feel that you are not able to perform the job to standard.
  • Interviewer who is inexperienced may feel that they are not prepared to interview a person with a disability.
  • May have had a bad interview or work experience in the past- may apply negative biases to you.
  • Past bad experiences or negative stereotypes may have an effect on hiring you.

Option: Disclose during the job offer stage


  • You have already negotiated terms of work without potentially being seen negatively or being considered negatively because of disability.


  • May be perceived as untrustworthy because it was kept as a ‘secret’.
  • If they are unable to accommodate, they may find other reasons to get rid of you.
  • May feel that they have been forced to accept an employee without considering the costs.
  • Possible lack of faith in your abilities.

Option: Disclose during the work stage


  • You did not have to discuss it during the application or interview stage – less stress!


  • Employer may have mistrust of you – why didn’t you disclose earlier they may ask.
  • Could hurt your relationship with manager etc.
  • If they don’t wish to accommodate, may find other ways to get rid of you.
  • Without previous disclosure, think you are not sure of your abilities.
  • Without disclosure, they may perceive that you wanted to start a lawsuit.

Option: Only when your disability becomes an issue.


  • You did not have to negotiate before this disclosure.
  • You were able to prove you could do the job.


  • Lack of trust with the employer.
  • You have had previous challenges and the employer may think you have other issues other than your disability.
  • Not being aware of your disability, the employer may have started to document your performance concerns to terminate you or you are starting to make reasons for performance issues.
  • They may perceive it as though you are not comfortable with your disability and may make others feel uncomfortable.

Examples of how to ask for accommodation

  1. To be successful, I may need to be allowed to work without a break.
    ‘I tend to be so focused on my work that I find taking breaks to disrupt my effectiveness or efficiency or it takes me a long time to get back into my work routines if disrupted to take a break.’
    Accommodation in terms of ending your work shift earlier to take into consideration you not taking the legal breaks. (Some companies see breaks as a legal issue, safety or performance issues).
  2. I need to start work at a certain time of day (medication reasons)
    I work my best when I am able start my shift at 1pm as I am not a morning person
  3. I need colleagues speak to me in a certain way – E.g I like when I am greeted with ‘Hi’ versus ‘how are you today?’
    You should try your best to be flexible with employers regarding your accommodation needs especially if it an accommodation that involves other co-workers.
    Disability AwarenessTraining from a service provider can help in this area but would require specific disclosure of disability.
    If Employer is interested in maximizing staff’s individual performance- then gives you the opportunity to say you need a specific accommodation such as a change in lighting, workstation, work periods, will enable you to simply state your needs without specific disclosure.
  4. I work best when I have simplified and specific instructions that are not open to interpretation.
    E.g. I work best if I am allowed to take notes, especially on my phone rather than relying on paper.

General disclosure and support tips

  • Co-workers do not need to know why you need accommodations- they may notice that you have accommodations but they do not need to know why.
    If any inquiries – simply say it is for personal reasons and this is how you work best and no further explanation is required.
  • Know your strengths and interests and workplace needs. How are they related to your work?
    E.g. I am good at statistical analysis and need to work in quiet work-area with minimal staff contact.
    I am good at keyboarding and don’t mind being interrupted at my job.
  • Take advantage of Mentoring Programs if they are offered by your employer.
  • Monitor your performance to ensure you are meeting standards.
    Speak to, phone message or email your manager on a regular basis for performance related questions:
    How am I doing? Is there anything I need to improve on? Do differently? Are you happy with my performance?
  • Negotiate expectations that take into account your needs.
    • Know your expectations and managers expectations.
    • Know both long term and short-term expectations and goals.
    • Know your manager’s work priorities.
    • Ask for assignments in a predictable manner and follow up if needed.
  • Ask to communicate in your preferred manner or get assistance if needed –e.g. verbal vs written.
  • If there is a change to your work routine, ask for as much notice as possible. i.e. monthly or weekly meetings.
  • Be prepared to get the assistance of an Employment Service Provider to discover what are the best ways to get your workplace needs met. They can assist you with what you can say to be your own self-advocate or be there with you for emotional support or if you wish, can also speak on your behalf.

Thanks to Richard McCallum and Spinal Cord Injury Ontario for putting this information together for this project. –

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