Sharing information about your disability
Many students and graduates with a disability, health condition or neurodiversity worry about whether to tell a prospective or current employer. In legal terms, this is referred to as ‘disclosure’. It is both a balancing act and a personal decision whether and when you want to share information about your disability during the recruitment process or in the workplace.
To help you work out the best option for you, we have provided some initial tips and advice below, as well as links to more additional guides and information. If you would like to hear about others’ experiences of talking to employers about their disability and adjustment needs, this video featuring several students from the University of Sheffield is a good starting point:
Should I tell an employer about my disability or health condition?
You may feel concerned that employers will be biased against you or treat you differently if you tell them about your disability either during the recruitment process or in work. Equally, you might not feel comfortable to talk to strangers about your health or believe that your disability is irrelevant to your ability to do the job.
You are under no obligation to inform an employer about your disability. Under the Equality Act 2010, it is (apart from a few exceptions) illegal for employers to ask about health and disability when recruiting staff. The Equality and Human Rights Commission explains this further in their ‘easy read’ guide.
However, it can be in your interest to tell prospective or present employers about your disability:
- Focusing on strengths and achievements:
You may be able to showcase particular strengths you have because of your disability, such as problem-solving, empathy for others, adaptability, or attention to detail. Or you may want to highlight positive achievements in spite of additional challenges you may have faced, e.g. high marks in spite of missing lessons during a period of ill health.
- Accounting for gaps on your CV:
If you have gaps on your CV due to your disability or health condition (including one off, past or temporary conditions), it might be in your interest to talk to employers about this. This also applies if you had lower-than-predicted marks in exams (e.g. due to health-related absences) or limited work experience.
- Asking for adjustments:
If you have told an employer about your disability, you can then ask for adjustments during the recruitment process and in work to ensure you can perform to the best of your ability. For example, you could request extra time for tests or interviews an employer might use during the selection process for a job, or an alternative way of having your suitability for the job assessed.
- Accessing targeted opportunities and additional support:
Some organisations offer opportunities aimed at disabled applicants (e.g. Change 100). Employers who are members of the Disability Confident scheme commit to inclusive and accessible recruitment and to offering an interview to disabled applicants who meet the minimum job requirements. There is also additional support available through the ‘Access to Work’ scheme, which you and your prospective/current employer can apply for.
- Disabled jobseekers and employees are covered under the Equality Act 2010:
If you tell an employer about your disability, they could be held liable if they discriminate against you or fail to make adjustments. Check the section on ‘your rights as a disabled jobseeker or employee’ on our website for further information.
Please note that if your disability has implications for your own health and safety or that of colleagues, you have to tell your employer under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.
If you are unable to carry out some of the job responsibilities due to your disability but have not discussed this with your employer during the recruitment process or when you started the job, they can legally terminate your contract. Employers cannot be held liable for discrimination or failure to make adjustments under the Equality Act 2010 if they did not know about your disability.
For certain jobs or professions, for example in healthcare, you may be asked to complete a health questionnaire as part of a ‘Fitness to Practise’ assessment to ensure that you can work safely and effectively. Answer these questions honestly, but bear in mind that an employer can only ask you about your health in relation to the job.
When should I share information about my disability or health condition
This depends on your individual circumstances. To help you decide, consider when it would be beneficial for you to share this information or when it might be essential for the employer to know. Below, the main opportunities for telling a potential or current employer are briefly outlined alongside potential adjustments you could ask for:
At the application stage
If employers participate in the Disability Confident scheme or similar programmes and have committed to guarantee an interview to disabled candidates meeting the minimum job requirements, it can be beneficial to tell employers about your disability at the application stage.
There may be a specific section on an application form where candidates can share information about a disability or health condition. In this, you could also mention what adjustments you would find helpful at further stages of the recruitment process (e.g. psychometric testing, interviews, assessment centres), as this will provide the recruiter with the information they need to put these in place.
A covering letter or personal statement can also be a place to share relevant information, e.g. explaining gaps in your education or work history, or highlighting relevant skills that you have developed as a result of your disability.
You can also contact the recruitment team directly before or just after submitting your application if you feel more comfortable discussing this on the phone or writing an email, or if you would like to ask for adjustments at the application stage. This could include providing samples of your work (where relevant) instead of submitting an application form, or recording yourself answering application questions instead of completing them in writing.
At the application stage, larger employers often use equal opportunities monitoring forms, which ask for details about your gender, ethnicity and disability. This is for monitoring purposes only and this information is detached before the application reaches those involved with the recruitment process. This means that if you have indicated that you have a disability on one of these forms, the recruiter will not have been informed and will not be aware of this.
When invited to take an online test
Some employers use online tests as part of the selection process. These are usually timed to assess both your ability to work under pressure and certain aptitudes (like numeracy or logical thinking) or personality traits. If you feel that your disability would disadvantage you when completing these, you may choose to tell the employer at this stage, so that adjustments can be made to ensure the process is fair and inclusive. These could include additional time for taking the test, sharing questions with you in advance, or replacing the test with a different method of assessment.
Please note that employers often give candidates a very short window to complete these tests, e.g. 48 to 72 hours. It may be advisable to be proactive and contact the recruitment team even before you have been invited to take a test if you know that an employer uses these.
When invited to attend an interview/assessment centre
If you have told an employer about your disability already, they are likely to get in touch with you to discuss adjustments when they invite you to an interview or assessment centre. If you have not shared this information yet, consider whether you need any adjustments to perform to the best of your ability at this stage of the selection process. To allow employers to put these in place, tell them with plenty of notice rather than on the day of your interview or assessment centre, when it may well be too late to make these.
Adjustments could include additional time for the interview, being sent a copy of the questions in advance, replacing some exercises at the assessment centre, and ensuring accessibility of physical or online spaces used.
At the interview
You may prefer to wait until you are at the interview to discuss your disability face-to-face, in particular if the application process did not allow you the time or space to ensure employers can get an accurate understanding of your disability or condition.
Interviewers usually ask you if you have any questions or anything else to add at the end of the interview, so you may feel this would be a good point to talk about your disability. Bear in mind though that interviews are often scheduled back-to-back, so you may not have time to have a detailed conversation about this.
When a job offer has been made
If you do not need any adjustments for any part of the recruitment process but will need adjustments in the workplace, you can discuss this with an employer when you have been offered the job. These could include flexible working hours and break times, arrangements to work from home (where possible) or at a set desk instead of hot-desking, physical changes to the working environment, additional training or a longer induction period.
You and your employer may be eligible for a grant from the Access to Work scheme.
Once in work
You can report new conditions or changes in circumstances at any point once you are in work. Talk to your line manager and human resources officer/inclusion officer if you need different or additional adjustments.
Who do I need to tell
This depends on when you tell a prospective or current employer about your disability – see previous section on ‘When should I share information about my disability or health condition?’. Larger organisations are likely to have a dedicated team of staff to manage the recruitment process, so speak to them in the first instance if you decide that you want to share this information during the application stage or when invited to an online test, interview or assessment centre. Use any contact information given on the job advert, or respond to emails you have received from the company, e.g. to invite you to interview.
Once a job offer has been made or if you are already in work, discuss any adjustments you might need with your line manager first. Large organisations might also employ specialist staff, e.g. inclusion advisers, who you can ask for support with this process. Human resources advisers or occupational health specialists may also provide some input, depending on what you need.
During the selection process, you may want to tell other candidates if you need their support. For example, if you lip-read, you may need to let other candidates know when completing a group exercise during an assessment centre.
Once in work, you may decide to tell colleagues or the wider team, for example if adjustments your employer makes for you require their co-operation. Or if you may need colleagues’ help in work, e.g. if you have epilepsy or get panic attacks, they can be prepared and know what to do.
For further information, please also see the section on ‘Your rights’.
How do I talk to employers about my disability
Don’t assume that employers will have a negative attitude towards candidates with a disability or health condition, but bear in mind that they may have limited experience of interviewing or employing candidates with a disability. They may ask you to explain how it might impact on you during the recruitment process and/or in the workplace. This will help them to understand your individual situation so they can make adjustments accordingly.
Be positive and keep any information you share relevant: highlight your strengths and don’t use negative or emotive language (e.g. I suffer from depression). Only discuss aspects of your disability that are relevant to the job – there is no need to provide full medical details. Think about the skills you have developed as a result of your experiences, such as flexibility, problem-solving, time management and determination, and try to link them clearly to your suitability for the sector/job you are applying for – see examples below.
If you are unsure how your disability might affect you in the workplace, seek advice from a relevant support organisation.
Example 1 - cover letter:
In my final year of college, I had a period of ill health, which led me to missing classes and as a result not achieving my predicted A-Level grades of ABB. I was subsequently diagnosed with type 1 diabetes and have learnt to manage my condition effectively while at university. As an active member of the National Diabetic Association, I have contributed to events which raised in excess of £25,000 during the last three years. Having diabetes and achieving a First Class degree as well as working and volunteering for up to 30 hours each week alongside my studies has developed my flexibility, time management and ability to meet targets, which I appreciate are key skills for your graduate training scheme.
Example 2 - CV (to evidence problem-solving skills):
I possess excellent problem-solving skills. As a wheelchair user, I have successfully overcome many challenges both in the UK and abroad, from accessing public transport and facilities during my Erasmus study placement in Slovenia to accessing extracurricular activities. This has greatly developed my creative problem-solving skills, initiative, and ability to think on my feet.
Example 3 - interview:
I have ADHD, which sometimes causes me difficulties with sitting still and concentration, but at the same time gives me particular strengths in other areas. For me, this includes having lots of energy, being able to improvise in difficult situations, and being very open and sociable. I am aware that these are essential qualities to work in events organisation and management. I look forward to using my excellent communication and problem-solving skills to build relationships with your clients and ensure that all events run smoothly. The energetic approach I bring to all projects I work on will help me succeed in this role. I read on the job advert that this role mostly involves working out and about rather than just at a desk in the office, which would suit me very well. Could you tell me a bit more about the working pattern for a typical working day in this role? (…) I work most effectively when I can take shorter breaks throughout the working day rather than just having a long lunch break. Do you have flexible working policies that would support my needs in the workplace?