Navigating the Disclosure of a Disability in the Workplace: A Guide for College Graduates 

Navigating the process of disclosing a disability to potential or current employers is a nuanced journey that requires careful consideration and planning. Disclosure is deeply personal and carries both potential benefits and risks. This article aims to guide college students and recent graduates through the complexities of disclosing a disability, offering practical advice to empower them in their career paths. 

1. Understanding Your Rights 

Before deciding whether to disclose a disability, it’s crucial to understand your legal protections. In many countries, legislation such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in the United States protects individuals with disabilities from employment discrimination. These laws also require employers to provide reasonable accommodations that enable employees to perform their job functions, provided these accommodations do not impose an undue hardship on the business. 

2. Assessing the Need to Disclose 

Deciding if, when, and how to disclose a disability is a personal decision influenced by various factors, including the need for accommodations and the potential impact on your job performance. If your disability does not affect your ability to perform the essential functions of a job, you might choose not to disclose it. However, if accommodations would enable you to be more successful in your role, disclosure could be beneficial. 

Assessing the need to disclose a disability to an employer involves weighing the potential benefits and drawbacks in relation to your specific situation and job requirements. Here are three examples that illustrate different circumstances under which an individual might decide whether or not to disclose their disability: 

  • 1) Need for Reasonable Accommodations 
    • Scenario: A college graduate with a visual impairment is applying for a job that requires extensive computer work. The individual uses screen-reading software to access digital content effectively. 
    • Assessment: In this case, disclosing the disability is likely necessary to request reasonable accommodations, such as specialized screen-reading software or hardware, that would enable the individual to perform the essential job functions. By disclosing, the individual can ensure they have the tools needed for success in their role. 
  • 2) Disability Does Not Impact Job Performance 
    • Scenario: A recent college graduate has a chronic illness that does not affect their ability to perform the tasks required in the job they are applying for. The job entails a mix of remote and in-office work, aligning well with the individual’s need for flexible work arrangements due to their condition. 
    • Assessment: Since the disability does not impact the individual’s job performance and the job naturally accommodates their need for flexibility, they might decide not to disclose their disability. This decision might be based on concerns about potential bias or simply a preference for privacy.
  • 3) Anticipated Need for Future Accommodations 
    • Scenario: An individual with a progressive condition is starting a new job that they can perform without accommodations currently. However, they anticipate the need for adjustments in the workplace environment or schedule as their condition changes. 
    • Assessment: This scenario presents a more nuanced decision. The individual might choose not to disclose immediately but recognize the potential need to disclose in the future. Alternatively, they may decide to disclose at the outset to establish an open dialogue about potential accommodations down the line, fostering a proactive rather than reactive approach with their employer. 

      In each of these examples, the decision to disclose is deeply personal and contingent upon the individual’s assessment of their needs, the job’s requirements, and the potential impact on their employment. Consulting with a trusted advisor or mentor can provide additional perspective and support in making this important decision. 

3. Timing of Disclosure 

The timing of disclosure is critical and varies depending on individual circumstances. Options include: 

  • During the job application process: If you need accommodations during the interview process, you may choose to disclose at this stage. 
  • After receiving a job offer: This timing ensures that your disclosure does not affect the hiring decision, and allows you to discuss accommodations before starting the job. 
  • Once employed: You can disclose a disability at any time during your employment if your needs change or if you initially chose not to disclose but later find that accommodations would be helpful. 

4. How to Disclose 

When you decide to disclose, how you do so is just as important. Prepare by gathering information on your rights, the accommodations you are requesting, and how these accommodations can contribute to your success in the role. Here are some tips: 

  • Be clear and concise: Provide essential information about your disability, focusing on how it impacts your work and what accommodations you are requesting. 
  • Focus on abilities and contributions: Emphasize your skills and how accommodations can enhance your performance. 
  • Seek support: Consider discussing your plans with a career counselor, mentor, or disability services office in your college for guidance and support. 

5. Creating a Supportive Dialogue 

Fostering an open and constructive dialogue with your employer is crucial. Approach the conversation with a problem-solving mindset, aiming to work together to find the best solutions that enable you to perform at your best. 

6. Documenting Your Request 

It’s advisable to formalize your disclosure and accommodation request in writing after discussing it with your employer. This documentation can help ensure clarity and provide a record of your request and the employer’s response. 

7. Navigating Challenges 

Despite legal protections, some individuals may encounter challenges or discrimination after disclosing a disability. It’s important to know your rights and, if necessary, seek support from legal resources or advocacy groups. 


Disclosing a disability is a personal decision that can have significant implications for your career. By understanding your rights, carefully considering the timing and manner of disclosure, and preparing to engage in open dialogue with employers, you can navigate this process with confidence. Remember, the goal of disclosure is to ensure that you have the necessary support to succeed in your career while maintaining your personal privacy and dignity. 

By Donnell Turner
Donnell Turner Director of Inclusive Career Development