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We have opportunities to self-identify and self-disclose our disabilities at work. Yay!! That’s a good thing, right? So why is it that some people with disabilities eagerly take advantage of these opportunities, while others hesitate or stay silent? Let’s look more closely at these diverse perspectives.

What’s happening:

  1. Employees have the opportunity to self-identify their disabilities. The intent and the expected positive impacts include enhanced employee (and thus organizational) performance as well as an enhanced organizational brand as an employer and community partner that demonstrates a commitment to inclusion.
  2. Employers encourage their employees to self-disclose the “reasonable accommodations” they need to deliver their best work.

What “Yaysayers” think:

  • “I have the right and am encouraged to ask for the accommodations I need to do my best work. And so do people who don’t have disabilities.”
  • “When I feel safe enough to stop hiding my disability, my self-confidence and pride increases and I can focus my innovation on performance excellence vs. survival.”
  • “These opportunities benefit the company by building a brand as an employer that is committed to employee and community diversity and inclusion.”

What “Naysayers” think:

  • “I don’t like being labelled. I don’t want to be treated differently or risk losing my job.”
  • “I’m tired of fighting the stigma about people with disabilities. I just want to do the job I was hired to do with excellence.”
  • “I understand that the government’s Self-Identification of Disability Form is intended to help federal contractors meet 503 regulations, tap into a very underutilized talent pool, advance their disclosure efforts, and engage employees. But I’m concerned that managers will ask intrusive questions that I just don’t want to answer.”

Easy to see both sides, right? So what can we as leaders do to help address different concerns?

  • Provide training to hiring managers about asking appropriate and legal questions during the interview process and after an employee has been hired.
  • Ask ALL employees what they need to do their best work during the interview process, performance evaluations, and career development and succession planning discussions.
  • Ensure all details will be held and treated as confidential.
  • Promote success stories from the perspective of employees (with and without disabilities) and managers on the organization’s intranet and internet to build branding.
  • Measure and publicize the return on investment when we all feel safe to ask for and discuss what we need to do our best at work.
  • Publicize the fact that EVERYONE has the opportunity to request a “reasonable accommodation” so that they can do their best work, not just people with disabilities.

And what can all employees and managers do to assess for themselves what they may need to do their best work? Dale S. Brown provides a performance resource assessment and feedback exchange anyone can use to ensure performance excellence—with or without a disability:

  1. Analyze the task that is giving you difficulty. Be exact about the nature of the problem you encounter.
  2. Analyze the aspect of your disability that is contributing to the difficulty. For those without a disability, analyze the cause and details of difficulty.
  3. Brainstorm solutions. Consider changes in the work environment, your work style, your that of your supervisor, and the job itself.
  4. Implement one of the solutions.
  5. Assess whether the accommodation is meeting your needs. Make sure to share feedback with your supervisor and implement any necessary adjustments in work routines to sustain your success.

We’ve explored the perspectives of people who are comfortable addressing their disability at work, and those who are not. What is clear is that there are simple practices we can install in the workplace that will help open lines of communication and trust so that everyone is empowered to do their best.

I encourage you to check out the additional resources below, and reach out with questions if you’d like more guidance on navigating self-identifying and self-disclosure.


Additional Resources