The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA


June 13, 2014

Watercooler: The delicacy of disclosing a disability

Q: At what point in the job application process should I reveal that I am visually impaired? Last time I was considered for a job, I did not mention my disability in several pre-interview phone conversations with my prospective boss. He was impressed with my skills and experience, and strongly indicated that I would fit in well. At my official interview, he was surprised to discover that I use a mobility cane, and later made what seemed an excuse not to hire me (I "didn't seem excited enough about the position").

I don't want to give the impression that I believe my low vision should factor into the hiring decision or that it affects the quality of my performance; I have needed only minimal accommodations at work since I began losing my eyesight more than two decades ago. It's a nuisance to me personally, but it has never been an impediment to doing my job well. I fear that notifying employers too early and thus making an issue of my liability might make them think that hiring me would be a risk. But I don't also want to make interviewers uncomfortable.

A: As I mentioned in a recent column, you are not required to disclose a disability unless you're requesting an accommodation. It doesn't define you, and it should be irrelevant to the hiring decision.

However, yours is a chronic, visible condition that will require at least some long-term accommodation if you are hired. True, the interviewer might have been put off by your impairment — or he may have inferred, correctly or not, that you deliberately withheld the information because you didn't trust him to give you a fair shake if he knew about it in advance.

So I believe this is one of the rare times it would do more good than harm to reveal a personal medical condition before showing up at the interview. If you know there will be a written test, for example, ask if you can have it read to you and respond orally. Or mention that you were the first legally blind professional to [insert impressive accomplishment here] at your current employer. Add that you'll be happy to answer any questions about your disability as it relates to the position when you meet in person.

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