Should I Self-Identify as a Person with a Disability?
Should I self-identify as a person with a disability is a question we hear a lot from both jobseekers and our talent partners. There are some very valid concerns, reasons and myths applicants with disabilities have when they come across this question when applying to a new career opportunity. This article will address some of those concerns and debunk some of those fears and myths.
An individual has three avenues to inform an employer they have a disability. First is self-identification, which is outlined below. The second is self-disclosure which is the act of personally communicating a disability to another person. It is a voluntary decision and typically disclosed when requesting a reasonable accommodation. The third is making a public announcement where an individual is comfortable in their workplace and/or personal life enough that they let coworkers and friends know that they have a disability. We want to highlight these three avenues because they can mean different things to different people.
For our purposes of self-identification, is when you see the Voluntary Self‐Identification of Disability Form on the application, new hire paperwork, and/or while you are employed asking you to choose the following:
Yes, I Have A Disability Or Have A History/Record Of Having A Disability
No, I Don’t Have A Disability, Or A History/Record Of Having A Disability
I Don’t Wish To Answer
Before you choose to identify as a person with a disability to an employer let’s discuss some concerns and myths.
Why are employers asking this question?
Employers who do business with the federal government (contractors and subcontractors) are responsible for complying with the legal requirement to take affirmative action and not discriminate based on race, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, national origin, disability, or status as a protected veteran. The government agency, Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP), protect workers, promotes diversity, and enforces the law. Employers, who are federal contractors are required to measure their progress towards having at least 7% of their workforce be individuals with disabilities and this form is how they can do so. The OFCCP states on reminds us that “voluntarily self-identifying is a good thing – it's how things change” and even created this video to explain “why companies doing business with the federal government ask job applicants and employees to voluntarily self-identify if they have a disability and the important role that self-identifying plays in ensuring equal employment opportunity for people with disabilities.”
Won’t this information be used against me and privy to my supervisors and co-workers?
This information should not be used against you in any way. This information is some of the most confidentially kept information, firewalled off and only accessible to usually a small group of people including the Chief Diversity Officer. It is not tied to your personnel file in any way and should not be used against you. As you can see on the form itself it states, “Your answer will be maintained confidentially and not be seen by selecting officials or anyone else involved in making personnel decisions. Completing the form will not negatively impact you in any way, regardless of whether you have self-identified in the past.”
What if I’m not comfortable self-identifying as a person with a disability?
Remember, this selection is a personal choice and is completely up to the jobseeker/employee to determine whether or not they want to self-identify as a person with a disability, hence, the option “I Don’t Wish To Answer.” With that being said, most employers are interested in increasing the recruiting, hiring, and retention of qualified individuals with disabilities. Also by checking “yes,” you can push the envelope and make employers that aren’t hiring people with disabilities do so when they receive these poor OFCCP audits. On the flip side, you can increase more opportunities for individuals with disabilities when selecting “yes” as those employers are becoming employers of choice by talent with disabilities.
Do I even qualify as a person with a disability?
Lastly, we want to point out those who are not sure if their conditions qualify as a disability. The ADA defines a person with a disability as a “person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. This includes people who have a record of such an impairment, even if they do not currently have a disability. It also includes individuals who do not have a disability but are regarded as having a disability.” This information is also stated on the Voluntary Self‐Identification of Disability Form along with a few examples that often surprise people such as cancer/cancer survivors, diabetes, and anxiety.
As a final reminder, self-identifying as a person with a disability is certainly a personal choice, however, you do have the power to create opportunities for all of those with disabilities. Federal contractors or subcontractors are required by law to provide equal employment opportunities to qualified people with disabilities and are required to measure the progress toward having at least 7% of their workforce be individuals with disabilities. When you decide to check “Yes, I Have A Disability Or Have A History/Record Of Having A Disability” you are choosing to have your voice heard in confidentiality.