The Desk

November 15, 2008

When’s the Right Time?

When’s the right time to make a profound disclosure?

We all have self-created images of another person based on their writing(s), their phone voice, the content of their resume. These are all innocuous media that are EEOC approved because they tend to not disclose the race, gender, age, physical disabilities that the other person has (or does not have).

Sometimes things will be given away in small ways. They are not that consequential and we accept that the matter will be disclosed. Essentially, it’s a time saver for people to realize “Wallace” is a man, not a woman; that Chin means the person with whom we’re corresponding is Chinese.

Most things become very obvious when we finally meet in person. But some things are still obscure, even in person. So when’s the right time to reveal that you have a disability and will need an accommodation? Some employers (and HR folk) get very nervous when they learn that their candidate or applicant has a disability and will require an accommodation. Or you tell a recruiter that the applicant will need a special keyboard and their voice begins to quaver as it becomes distant. They’re visualizing front office appearance and the negative of that. Then they either say they’ll get back to you about the applicant or tell you the position has been pulled. They’re loss. But did they really need to know about the disability at that early juncture?

Perhaps the disability doesn’t need to be revealed at all. No accommodations are required. To bring up the disability is to gild the lily and call unnecessary attention to something that’s a non-issue. But when there are unnecessarily burdensome requests and demands made that go beyond the necessities of the job being performed, it’s more than appropriate to put the other person on notice that they are being obtuse and a more reasonable and efficient way of doing the job (in addition to more cost effective) is available. Did I say anything about revealing the disability that’s being tolled? Why would it be necessary? Maybe to get sympathy; but that isn’t the goal here.

Normally, I give advice through these blog posts or merely express my opinion or vocalize my stance. There are times when I actually leave the final call up to the reader and wait for the conversation to start. This is one of those instances.

You are smart people. You have valuable thoughts that deserve being communicated so that others can know you and consider your perspective as they formulate their own opinions.

Back to our subject — when to talk about a disability. What about when the subject of favorite activities comes up? Do you say, “Boy, I just love reading my braille notes during a dark and stormy night.” Or when the topic turns to outdoors activities, do you talk about things you used to do but only partake as a spectator now? Maybe an explanation (more or less an apology) isn’t necessary; just saying that it’s a fav spectator sport. Another option is explaining that you were merely curious about the other’s activities and interests and whether there are any matches.

Actually, I don’t think it’s necessary to walk around with a placard saying “Feel sorry for me, I’m disabled.” It might if you have a tin cup, but that isn’t what you want in the workplace nor in the social world. Pity and handouts always come up short. You have an identity. It may not be as attractive to you as you would like it to be. But then, we’re always our own worst critic. Be proud of who and what you are (if there’s integrity) and don’t apologize for your own perceived shortcomings. You just may be a lot more attractive and desirable than you give yourself credit for being.

As to when is the right time to disclose the disability. How about when it’s absolutely necessary — “I never learned to swim” — and everyone is required to dive into the water on “Survivor.”

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