A common questions job seekers have is how to mention a disability on resume. If you are one of the many millions of people fortunate enough to live in the United States in 2020, there’s a reasonably good chance that you have some level of disability. Statistically, roughly one in six Americans has a disability of some sort.
And unfortunately, many of those Americans struggle to locate gainful employment. If you’re even partially disabled and struggling with your job search, your resume may be the cause. More specifically, the problem may be how you’re managing information about your disability. If you want to mention disability in your resume, read this first!
We'll also show you how to work around employment gaps on your resume due to a disability.
Do I have to mention my disability on my resume?
Most experts suggest that the answer is almost always a resounding no.
It’s simple: if you are capable of doing the job, and your disability won’t require special accommodation, then your impairment is irrelevant.
Deciding when to tell a hiring manager about a disability or accommodation request can be a tricky thing, especially when applying for a new job. Our advice to clients is to not disclose a disability or workplace accommodation in the resume or cover letter. This conversation should happen after the interview has taken place and after you have had a fair opportunity to prove your skills and qualifications.
Jennifer Johnson, MBA and SPHR (Senior Professional in Human Resources)
Why mention something that doesn’t have any bearing on whether you can do the job?
In short, there are few reasons why the inclusion of this information could ever be necessary. Of course, if you are unqualified due to your disability, then you would be lying if you ignored your impairment. Then again, you really shouldn’t be applying for that type of job anyway, right?
And while some minor disabilities like mild hearing or vision problems might seem worth mentioning, your best bet is to bring them up at an interview--after your resume has shown that you're qualified.
What risks come with disclosing my disability on a resume?
Unfortunately, there are a whole host of reasons why you shouldn’t mention disability in your resume. Any one of these reasons can put your chances of getting called in for an interview at risk.
Here are some big detractions:
It distracts from your qualifications
You have already established that you’re qualified, right? Your list of resume accomplishments and your potential value have already been effectively documented. You’ve done everything that you can to ensure that your resume sells you as the best candidate for the job. All that you need now is to ace the interview, and the job is yours!
Well, the last thing you want to do at that point is add non-essential information that distracts from those qualifications. Remember, your resume must be tightly focused on presenting you as a potentially valuable employee. If you mention disability in your resume, you distract from that narrative.
Some employers will use it as a reason to not grant you an interview
Yes, it is sad to think that discrimination still exists at this point in history...but it does. Your disability may have no bearing on your qualifications, but many employers won’t see that truth. Many will see it as a potential source for problems.
Some will wonder whether you need special accommodations. Others will wonder whether you are as qualified as you say you are. Even minor accommodations like the need for insulin might seem too problematic for a potential employer.
You’re not required to disclose any disabilities
You are not required to mention disability in your resume or even in a job interview. That’s right! The Americans with Disabilities Act protects your right to not disclose that information--and employers can’t ask about disabilities either. So, why include details that are irrelevant to the job if you are not required to do so?
It is your legal right to not disclose your disability. However, that doesn't mean you have to lie to protect yourself. As Jennifer points out:
Often, there will be a question on the job application about requesting accommodation. If this question is present, always answer truthfully.
If/when the hiring manager asks about the accommodation need, keep the conversation positive and focused on what you can do, not the limitation. Carrying the attitude of 'where there's a will, there's a way' will encourage the hiring manager that you and their company will strike a positive balance together.
You shouldn't mention it in your cover letter, either
It’s also important to recognize that non-disclosure should be consistent. Don’t disclose disability in a cover letter either.
Any employers who might deny you an interview when they see a disability in your resume would doubtless do the same if they saw that information in your cover letter.
Instead, focus on your unique value and what makes you a great fit for this position. You know your own limitations and abilities best. Don't misrepresent yourself! Just be honest about what makes you a strong candidate for this particular job.
Cover letters help your job application stand out to a hiring manager. Here's what a good cover letter looks like in 2021.
What if I have employment gaps due to my disability?
If you have employment gaps on your resume due to a disability, there are a few more factors for you to consider.
Significant gaps--a year or more--will likely attract a hiring manager's attention. If you can honestly add it, explain your employment gap with any volunteer work you did, skills you gained, or certifications you earned.
If you were focused on healing, recovering, or getting treatment, you can simply say you were taking care of personal matters. The employer may be suspicious, but you probably won't have to elaborate. Personal matters can encompass anything from chemo treatment to caring for an elderly parent.
Employers do understand that employment gaps happen, but you also need to be able to give a reasonable explanation for them. We wrote a good article with some examples and tips on how to deal with employment gaps on your resume.
Should I talk about my disability during an interview?
Should you discuss your disability during the interview? The short answer is “maybe.” The fact is that there are few instances in which even that level of disclosure is necessary. For example, you should consider disclosure if:
Your disability requires some level of accommodation, like breaks at specific times or an office on the ground floor.
Your disability is noticeable. For example, hearing or speech impediments might need to be disclosed, since employers will likely recognize them at the interview.
Your disability is a strength for the job. Nonprofits, for example, look for candidates with strong mission ties. If your current or past disability makes you uniquely qualified to spread that mission, you should consider bringing it up.
The important thing to do during such disclosures, however, is to acknowledge the issue and immediately focus attention on what you can do for the company.
In most instances, your ability to continue to emphasize the value you bring to the table will help the employer to maintain that same focus. And that could be essential for helping you land that job!
check out our guide to common interview questions (and how to answer them).
When should I disclose my disability?
Jennifer recommends that you disclose your disability after a job offer has been extended.
If the subject of your disability/accommodation need does not come up during the application or interview process, you should disclose it after the job offer has been given. Make the accommodation part of your job acceptance conversation, so the hiring manager is prepared to welcome you into their organization upon your first day of work.
Disclosing at this point will keep the conversation open and honest with your employer, which is a great way to start a new job. It will also give you some reassurance that this job will work for you long-term.
It can be tricky to navigate conversions about disabilities while you're job searching. The most important things to remember are that you don't legally have to disclose any information about your disabilities, but if you choose to, keep the focus on what else you bring to the table.
Good luck with your job search!
The ZipJob team is made up of professional writers and career experts located across the USA and Canada with backgrounds in HR, recruiting, career coaching, job placement, and professional writing.