Telling your boss about your disability
This article was written by Pam MacNeill, managing director of Disability Responsiveness New Zealand.
To disclose or not to disclose
Deciding whether or not to tell others about your impairment or impairments is a matter of personal preference and individual choice that only you can make. One example of the sort of situation you would need to consider when making this decision is where your impairment could endanger yourself or others. For example, if your vision is poor and making driving hazardous, or you experience seizures which make use of vehicles and other machines dangerous. In such cases you will need to consider who to tell to ensure the safety of yourself and others. You don’t necessarily have to go into lengthy detail but just provide the facts in a calm, matter-of-fact manner.
Remember, impairment is a personal characteristic like your height or build. You don’t need to discuss it with everyone you meet, especially if this is not relevant to your relationship with them. For example, it may have nothing to do with the person who calls to try to sell you something over the phone.
How to disclose your disability
If you decide that you will at times disclose impairment-related information, you need to decide how you will do this. Here are some tips:
Use positive language to convey your message. Avoid words like ‘suffer’ and ‘afflicted’. You can inadvertently victimise yourself by using such highly emotive and negative words. You can, however, talk about ‘having’ an impairment or impairments, and ‘using’ adaptive technology. Try not to fall into the media trap of telling people you are ‘confined’ to, or ‘bound’ by, a wheelchair. Actually, wheelchairs neither bind nor confine those who use them. Rather, they provide their users with the means to become mobile.
Describe how you successfully manage your life, which includes your impairment or impairments.
Talk about what you have achieved, rather than how difficult or unfair life has been.
Disclosing to an employer
When thinking about what and how much to tell an employer, keep in mind that it is impossible to ask for impairment-related accommodations if you haven’t disclosed impairment-related needs you might have. However, if you disclose in an up-beat and positive manner, stressing your capabilities, the conversation can be very beneficial and ultimately rewarding.
How employers can help
Employers can make it easier for disabled people to disclose impairment(s) by including discussions about reasonable accommodations for disabled people in a larger conversation about generic accommodations, such as providing part-time or working from home arrangements for staff who require these for a number of reasons. Don’t make it ‘a special’ conversation you have with disabled staff, instead make the conversation part of a spectrum of options available to all staff.
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