What is disclosure?

Disclosure refers to telling a supervisor, co-worker or others about your learning disabilities.

Disclosure is one of the most difficult decisions you can make. It’s a personal decision that requires a lot of thought and planning.

You need to carefully plan how you wish to disclose and think about the possible implications for everyone involved.

What are learning disabilities (LDs)?

Learning Disabilities affect one or more of the ways that a person takes in, stores, or uses information. LDs come in many forms and affect people with varying levels of severity.

LDs are a life-long condition – they do not go away – but can be coped with successfully by using areas of strength to compensate for areas of weakness, and using accommodations such as technology.

LDs and their effects are different from person to person, so you need to understand your pattern of learning abilities in order to find good, effective strategies for compensation.

A full definition of learning disabilities can be found on the LDAO website, www.ldao.ca.

What are accommodations?

Accommodations are the different methods and materials that a person with learning disabilities uses to complete tasks or activities with greater ease and efficiency.

Some examples include:

  • making changes to the environment without changing the nature of the task or activities.
  • use of specific equipment (e.g. computer, PDA, tape recorder) to get the job done.
  • techniques (extra time, quiet working space, written and verbal instructions) to enhance productivity and make communications with supervisors and co-workers flow better.

Some reasons to consider disclosing:

  • you need some accommodations in order to be successful at your job
  • the requirements of your job have changed due to organizational growth, restructuring or technological changes and you are running into difficulties
  • you are having a job evaluation and you want to explain why you have not always met all the expectations or requirements of the job
  • you are finding it stressful to hide your LDs

Why some adults with LDs may not want to disclose:

  • may not know much about how their LDs affect them at work
  • may have had an unpleasant experience in the past, and do not want to repeat that experience
  • may fear that disclosing will lead to prejudice, discrimination or rejection
  • may worry that LDs will be seen as a weakness
  • prefer to work around the problems and not disclose their LDs unless it is absolutely necessary
  • do not know when or how to disclose their LDs

Deciding if and when to disclose:

A decision chart is presented at the end of this brochure, to help you weigh the pros and cons.

When you are ready to disclose:

First, you must understand your LDs and be able to describe them clearly to others when you choose to.

Second, you must decide to whom to disclose. If you work for a large company which has a Human Resources Department, that may be a good place to start. In smaller companies you may want to speak to a senior person who is not your direct supervisor, unless you are comfortable that your supervisor will understand.

Then, when you disclose, you must be able to:

  • First talk about your competencies (what you are good at)
  • Ensure that you are competent in the essential skills required in the job
  • Describe your accommodation needs in clear, understandable terms
  • Stress the accommodations that have worked well with former employers or with teachers
  • Emphasize that with accommodations, your productivity will increase significantly
  • Show a willingness to collaborate with the employer, supervisor or co-workers in providing accurate information regarding your needs
  • Understand that employers and co-workers often fear the unknown and help them to feel confident that they understand what they are being told
  • Know the rights and the responsibilities of employers and employees

Rights and responsibilities:

The Ontario Human Rights Code prohibits discrimination because of disability and requires accommodation in a way that respects your dignity and privacy.

As an employee you must be able to perform the essential duties or requirements of the job, but you cannot be judged incapable of performing those duties until efforts have been made to accommodate you, up to the point of undue hardship.

An employer can only claim undue hardship if the cost of a requested accommodation is so high that the survival of the business is affected, or if they can demonstrate that health and safety requirements are negatively affected.

You are responsible to inform your employer of your accommodation needs, and to cooperate in obtaining necessary information, including medical or other expert opinions.

Your employer can request only such information as is required to make the accommodation, and is supposed to bear the cost of any required medical information or documentation.

You do not have to provide a diagnosis, but you may need a letter from a doctor or psychologist saying that you require certain accommodations because of your disability.

Some Helpful Tips about Disclosing

  • Plan and schedule a meeting between yourself and the person you have decided to talk to
  • Be prepared. Consider role-playing with a trusted friend to practice in advance
  • Provide the person with a specific reason for the accommodation. Explain why you need it and how this would benefit the organization
  • Don’t discuss your life history. Provide only as much information as the person needs to know for you to obtain the accommodation. Information discussed should be private. Stress that the information needs to remain confidential. Ask if anyone else will be given the information and for what reasons?
  • Make a plan and stick to it. Write an action plan on how, when and to what extent the accommodation is to be provided
  • Follow up. Request a follow-up meeting to chart the progress or adjustment which needs to be made

Think It Over, Carefully

  • Before you disclose, think carefully about what you are going to say. Remember, it is important to emphasize your strengths and successes, and list any strategies or accommodations that have worked for you in the past.
  • Ultimately, only you can decide the time, the place and the amount of information to share with others.

Developed from materials gathered and adapted by the Adult Advocacy Committee of the Learning Disabilities Association of Ontario, 2008