From the desk of Tracie DeFreitas, M.S., CLMS, Lead Consultant — ADA Specialist
October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) and is a time when many employers engage in activities that raise awareness about disability and employment issues. NDEAM brings disability to the forefront for employers that want to implement strategies to advance their disability inclusion initiatives. Disability inclusion programs are bolstered by actively seeking and hiring individuals with disabilities, but many employers are often unaware that an individual has a disability until he or she decides to disclose disability-related information at some point during the employment process. In general, applicants and employees are not required to disclose their disabilities (with limited exceptions), but Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act requires covered federal contractor employers to invite applicants and employees to voluntarily self-identify as an individual with a disability. While JAN has always received questions related to disability disclosure and employment, this new Section 503 requirement has prompted an increase in inquiries related to this topic.
Making the decision to share disability-related information can be overwhelming and there is no right or wrong approach – it’s personal. Individuals disclose disability-related information for a variety of reasons, including (but not limited to): to inform an employer of the existence of a medical impairment; to be included as part of a disability-related initiative or program; to request reasonable accommodation during the hiring process, to perform job functions, or to receive a benefit of employment; or to explain an unusual circumstance. Disability disclosure can occur during any stage of the employment process, including pre-employment, post-offer, and while employed – whether it be within days, months, or years of being hired.
For some individuals, the Voluntary Self-Identification of Disability form used by employers to meet the requirements of Section 503 can lead to apprehension over disability disclosure. Completing the form is voluntary, but individuals are often concerned about the consequences of either not completing it, or about disclosing their disability – even knowing the affirmative action impetus. Rest assured that the purpose of the form is to request disability-related information to help employers measure their progress in hiring and employing individuals with disabilities – to increase the number of individuals with disabilities who are hired. Any information that is disclosed cannot be used against the individual in any way and must be kept confidential. Detailed information is not necessary; it’s simply a matter of checking a box that states the individual either does or does not have a disability, or does not wish to answer.
JAN has published a new document that addresses some of the most frequently asked questions about disability disclosure and employment. The information is relevant to both individuals with disabilities and employers. See Disability Disclosure and Employment. Additional information and resources related to disability disclosure can be found at AskJAN.org in the A-Z section, under the topic of Disclosure.
If you are looking for information on affirmative action, see JAN's Consultants' Corner, Volume 05, Issue 05: Affirmative Action and Disability: What Can Employers Ask? Also, see OFCCP's Disability Inclusion Starts with You for a public service announcement-style video encouraging applicants and employees with disabilities to voluntarily self-identify.