Disclosure in the Workplace: for Employers

To most people without a disability, disclosure is not an issue, perhaps because most people think that having a disability is obvious—the wheelchair, white cane, hearing aids, scooter say it all.

For individuals with learning disabilities, their “hidden disabilities” may not be apparent. Some are able to compensate well enough that they never need to disclose. For a few, their LDs create barriers far more severe than people can see. Not only do these individuals require accommodations, but others often misinterpret the effects of their disabilities for personal weakness or lack of ability or commitment to a task.

There are many employees with LDs who find the right ‘fit’ and are very successful in their jobs. However, when the requirements of the job change due to organizational growth, restructuring or technological changes they may run into difficulties and need accommodations.

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, 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 the individual’s pattern of learning abilities must be understood in order to find good, effective strategies for compensation and appropriate accommodations.

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

Why Accommodate?

  • To create a safe and positive work environment
  • To help others achieve success and build confidence
  • To create a positive culture for all staff
  • To develop your human capital and build long term dedicated employees
  • To capitalize on unique views and diversity, which can contribute to a competitive edge

Accommodation means the use of different methods and equipment that enable persons with disabilities, such as LDs, 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 technology (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.

Why some adults with LDs may not want to disclose:

  • 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

What can employers do?

As an employer, there are several things that can be done to encourage workers with LDs to disclose their disability, including:

  • Have a policy on accommodation and publish it internally and on your website
  • Ensure your staff that you support that policy and that you will provide the financial and human resources to help implement accommodations
  • Ensure that hiring, retention and promotion policies and procedures include issues related to employees with disabilities
  • Acknowledge employees with disabilities who have successfully used accommodation strategies, and co-workers who supported them
  • Create a culture of acceptance and celebrate the diversity of your workforce, including persons with disabilities.
  • Accept that a workplace that embraces disabilities is a workplace that is maximizing its human capital and that will enable your company to be successful with a healthy growth potential.

Rights and responsibilities:

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

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

The employee is responsible to inform their employer of any accommodation needs, and to cooperate in obtaining necessary information, including medical or other expert opinions.

An 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.

In summary:

  • Disclosure of a learning disability is a personal choice
  • The most frequent reason for disclosure is to request accommodation
  • Many people with LDs will not disclose their disability because they fear rejection or ridicule
  • Some content themselves with lower-level jobs so they don’t have to risk disclosure, however, if a job changes and new skill sets are required, disclosure may be forced.
  • Employers can help foster positive “disclosure environments” through a variety of means that include creating and promoting policies of inclusion and accommodation.