Disclosing a disability when applying for a job

If you have a disability you are protected by The Equality Act 2010. This act makes it unlawful for employers to treat an applicant or employee with disabilities less favourably than other applicant or employee for any reasons connected to their disability unless there is justification for such action.

Under the Equality Act 2010 you can choose whether or not to disclose your disability when applying to a job. However, if the job you are applying for will put you in situations where your disability could present a risk to your own health and safety or to that of your colleagues then you do have to disclose it.

If, when and how you disclose your disability requires careful consideration.

What is classed as a disability

The Equality Act 2010 considers someone to be disabled if they have a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.

Special rules apply to progressive conditions. For example people with cancer, HIV and multiple sclerosis are protected from the time of diagnosis.

A mental illness does not have to be clinically well recognised before it is judged to be a mental impairment for the purposes of the Act.

Certain conditions such as drug and alcohol addiction are not regarded as impairments.

Why you may not wish to disclose a disability

  • You may not want the employer to know about your disability or health problem, as you feel they may reject your application immediately.
  • You may feel that your health or disability does not actually affect your ability to do the job so why draw attention to it.
  • You may feel that your application will not be considered on its merits.

Why disclose a disability

You are protected by the Equality Act 2010

It is unlawful for employers to discriminate against disabled people in their recruitment and selection procedures.

Your employer will be able to make reasonable adjustments for you

Under the terms of the Equality Act 2010, employers must consider making any 'reasonable adjustments' you might need to enable you to work for them.  For example, if your disability makes travel difficult at certain times, then an employer could make a reasonable adjustment by allowing you to work different hours.

If your employer does not know you have a disability, they cannot make adjustments to help you succeed in your job.

If you do not declare a disability, an employment tribunal might decide that your employer was justified in failing to make adjustments for you. However, it may also decide that your employer could reasonably be expected to know about your disability even if you have not declared it.

Employers get financial support via the Access to Work scheme to provide specialist equipment for you, so there is no extra cost to them in hiring someone with a disability.

It also allows your employer to deal with health and safety issues effectively and allows you to negotiate time off for medical appointments.

Many employers are positive about employing people with disabilities

Many employers are committed to employing disabled people and actively seek to recruit people with disabilities to reflect their commitment to a diverse workforce. Look out for the Two Ticks symbol that many employers use to demonstrate their commitment to considering disabled applicants. Check employers' equal opportunity policies as well. 

You may need to answer a medical questionnaire

Many application forms include medical questionnaires. Omitting details here or giving false information may prejudice your application adversely. It may also result in dismissal if your disability comes to light after you start the job.

You control how your disability is explained

You control how your disability is explained to an employer. By stressing the positive aspects of your disability you can confront any negative perceptions at the earliest stage possible.

'Selling' your disability to an employer

Keep control of the situation

Focus on your strengths, transferable skills and what you have learnt from your disability. Acknowledging any difficulties that you have had and stressing the ways that you have overcome them demonstrates your maturity and determination to succeed.

Some examples:

  • Because of my hearing loss I have developed excellent levels of concentration. This is demonstrated in my ability to analyse spreadsheets and make performance related forecasts.
  • I have Cerebral Palsy which effects my walking and my speech is slurred. My communication has a few problems which I have learnt to work around by using different words or by just writing them down. Over time people do get tuned it to the way that I speak. I also use an electric wheelchair for long distances, I am very aware of problems that other people face and can usually think of ways to overcome or help to alleviate these.
  • Due to my disability I am very independent, a good organiser and I always put 110% into the task that I am given. I am a quick thinker and a strong team player. During my time at university I have had a volunteer assistant to take my notes and do other tasks e.g. helping in the library etc. I manage their time and pay them.
  • Because I am dyslexic I have developed a range of strategies in the collection and processing of information and in structuring my work. In addition I make full use of a variety of computer software to assist my written work.

Marketing Dyslexia Positively

  • It’s useful to potential employers if you can explain what form your dyslexia takes and outline the strategies that you have developed which enable you handle your academic work and everyday life.
  • Have creative ability and may have special gifts in engineering, computer programming or art and design.
  • Possess strong reasoning powers and lateral thinking ability and are good at seeing the bigger picture.
  • Have developed strong IT skills and are familiar with a wide variety of software.
  • Have developed a range of strategies to handle information and prioritise workload.
  • Have good organisational and problem-solving skills.
  • Are self-reliant and can work independently.
  • Have developed an awareness of the different problems that other people face.
  • Have a positive attitude and show their commitment to success

sourced from the University of Southampton's page 'Disclosing disability/dyslexia'

What to consider in making your decision

Before applying for any job and making your decision, think about the following:

  • The nature of your disability and the work involved.
  • The terms and conditions of the job.
  • The nature and culture of the employer:  have you looked at their website? Does it refer to ways in which they help people with disabilities?
  • Are there any health and safety issues that need to be addressed?
  • The consequences of not disclosing your disability. Could your disability come to light in some way in the future? If that happened how would you deal with it?

When is the best time to disclose?

When considering whether to disclose your disability to an employer you need to think about each application separately. Make decisions according to the particular employer/job and how it relates to your personal circumstances.

In all cases, focus on your abilities, and why you think you are the right person for the job.
Familiarise yourself with the Equality Act and be prepared to inform employers about the legal implications.

Ask for advice from the careers centre if you are unsure how to proceed.

Disclosing in an application form or CV

Some application forms ask direct questions about health and disability, or will include a medical questionnaire. This gives you a clear opportunity to provide all the details.

Alternatively, a question on the application could provide you with an opportunity to disclose your disability. For example, could a situation in which your disability posed a challenge demonstrate the way you have handled something effectively?

If you are applying by CV, you can raise any extra issues relevant to your application in your covering letter. Make your disclosure positive by highlighting the strengths you have developed through coping with your disability or health problem without centring the whole letter on the issue.

Anticipate any possible concerns of the employer by making them aware of the support they can call upon when employing people with disabilities.

Disclosing during an interview

If you are invited to 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 helps employers to respond to your needs if they can prepare in advance. If you wait until the interview to disclose a disability it could take them by surprise and subsequent questions may focus on your disability rather than your abilities. Interviewers may be unsure about the situation, so while being relaxed yourself make them feel at ease and clarify anything they need to know.

Will you need to discuss reasonable adjustments and legal obligations? Will there be a health and safety issue for you and for other colleagues? Will you want to make use of Access to Work or discuss other accommodations?

Disclosing once you are in the job

You might want to assess how you cope in the job before deciding whether you need support. Will you feel more comfortable about disclosure once you are established? Think also about how you will broach the issue with your boss and work colleagues.

Get That Job - a guide for disabled graduates

A three-part video programme featuring disabled graduates, employers and an adviser addressing a range of topics, including:

• identifying disability-friendly employers;
• applying for work;
• disclosing a disability;
• adjustments in the workplace.

Watch Get That Job via studentcentral (UoB login required)

Useful resources

Disclosing a disability when applying for a job (pdf)

The Equality Act 2010

The Equality Act 2010 made it unlawful for employers to treat an applicant or employee with disabilities less favourably than other applicant or employee for any reasons connected to their disability unless there is justification for such action.

All employees, including temporary, part time, permanent and contract workers, are covered by the act. The only major occupation not covered is service in the armed forces.

For more information see Definition of disability under the Equality Act 2010.

Further information and support

Access to Work
An Access to Work grant can pay for practical support if you have a disability, health or mental health condition to help you start working, stay in work or move into self-employment or start a business.

Blind in Business
Offers practical training and employment services to help visually impaired graduates find work.

British Stammering Association (BSA)
BSA offers support to all whose lives are affected by stammering.

Disability Now
Aims to accurately reflect and present the lives, experiences, views, opinions and lifestyle choices of disabled people. They also provide freelance opportunities and access to the media for disabled journalists and writers.

Disability Rights UK
Aims to ensure that disabled people can achieve potential and aspirations through education, skills and training.

Epilepsy Action
Information about looking for and staying in work, and also your rights in the workplace.

Equality and Human Rights Commission
Includes guidance for workers on their rights under the Equality Act 2010, and specific advice for applicants and employers on recruitment.

Exceptional Individuals
Recruitment agency supporting people with disabilities (particularly dyslexia and dyspraxia) to find and apply for jobs.

The Fed
Formerly the Brighton and Hove Federation of Disabled People. A user-led organisation that promotes independence with dignity for disabled people, and makes sure that local disabled people’s views are heard.

Provides specialist services for adults in the workplace affected by dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, AD(H)D, and other neurological differences.

Mind - How to be mentally healthy at work
Explains how you can be mentally healthy at work, giving practical suggestions for what you can do and where you can go for support.

The Papworth Trust
Support with finding work and getting training, as well as information for employees and employers.

Supports disabled people in getting employment in large corporations, public sector bodies and local employers.

The Shaw Trust
Supports disabled people to look and prepare for work as well as manage their disability.

Work and Disabled People
Gov.uk page on disability rights and support in the workplace and while job seeking.

An online community of and for people with disabilities, including a forum for work and learning.