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Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Declaring a disability

There is no obligation for you to disclose a disability - it is your own decision. However, there are some things you might want to consider in making that decision.

Should you tell a potential employer about your disability?

Although you may be uncertain about how an employer may react, there are good reasons for telling a potential employer about a disability.

Employment is covered by the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA). This means it is unlawful for employers to discriminate against disabled people in their recruitment and selection procedures.

Under the DDA, employers must also consider making any ' reasonable adjustments' you might need in order to enable you to work for them. If you don't declare a disability, an employment tribunal might decide that your employer was justified in failing to make adjustments for you. However, it could also decide that your employer could reasonably be expected to know about your disability even if you have not declared it.

It is worth remembering that if your employer does not know you have a disability, they cannot make any adjustments to help you succeed in your job.

Deciding how and when to declare a disability

The DDA is the law, but keep these points in mind when deciding whether to disclose a disability.

If you're asked in an interview or on an application form whether you have a health condition or disability, answer in a straightforward way. Make the distinction between a health condition and a disability.

If you sign a declaration saying you do not have a disability when in fact you do, this may have consequences later on.

Application forms and medical questionnaires

Some application forms ask direct questions about disability, so you can give all the details you feel are important when completing the form.

If necessary, explain how your disability would affect you in a work environment - or say that it has no practical effect. Focus on your abilities and why you think you're the right person for the job.

If you feel that being disabled, or your life experience due to your disability, increases your ability to do the job, mention this on the part of the application form that asks why you're suitable for the job. If you don't disclose a disability, it may be harder to explain its positive aspects later on.

You may also be asked direct questions about disability and health on a medical questionnaire. Whether you will need to fill one out, and at what stage you do this, can depend on the type of job or employer.

Attending interviews

If you're shortlisted for an interview and need practical support, such as a sign language interpreter or help getting to the interview, you should contact the employer to arrange this.

It's much easier for employers to respond to your needs if they can prepare in advance. It's a good idea to disclose a disability before an interview, although this is not a legal requirement.

If you wait until the interview and you have a disability you haven't told the employer about, it may take them by surprise. They may ask irrelevant questions about your disability that you could have answered simply on the application form. The time should be spent explaining why and how you're the right person for the job, not focusing on issues of disability.

Employers with a commitment to employing disabled people

Your decision to disclose your disability may be influenced by your judgement about the attitude of a particular employer. The following points may help you make that judgement.

Many employers have equal opportunities policies. These organisations will have a certain commitment to recruiting and employing without prejudice. You may feel more comfortable disclosing a disability if the organisation has an equal opportunities policy.

You should also look out for the Jobcentre Plus 'two ticks' disability symbol on job adverts. This symbol means that the employer has made a commitment to employing disabled people and that you're guaranteed a job interview if you meet the minimum criteria for the job.

Employment tribunals

Whether or not you declare a disability, if you feel you've been treated unfairly in the application process because of your disability, you can make a complaint to an employment tribunal. A complaint must be lodged within three months. The employment tribunal can:

  • decide whether your treatment was against the law
  • recommend whether the employer should take certain action, for example, offer to employ you or change its policy
  • order the employer to pay you compensation

Finding out more at Jobcentre Plus

If you're worried about declaring your disability and would like help, talk to your Jobcentre Plus Disability Employment Adviser. They can help you decide on the best way to explain your suitability for the job, or, if you would find it helpful, they may contact the employer on your behalf.

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