13% of Americans have a disability—what this means during the job application process


Job applications can often present a challenging question for many Americans: "Do you have a disability?" Approximately 13% of the U.S. population identifies as having a disability, but this estimate may be lower than the actual number due to the stigma surrounding disability identification. Many job applicants with disabilities struggle with whether to self-identify and which option to select on the application.

It is important to understand why employers include this voluntary question on job applications. While they are not allowed to ask about disability status in a job interview, federal contractors are required by law to collect self-identification data, along with data on race, ethnicity, gender identity, and veteran status. This data helps measure diversity and is part of the updated Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The collected information is stored securely and separately from other personnel data to maintain confidentiality, and only those responsible for enforcing compliance programs can view the demographic data.

Voluntarily sharing disability data allows federal contractors to gain a better understanding of their workforce's makeup and work towards the U.S. Department of Labor's goal of having 7% of their employees consist of qualified individuals with disabilities.

When deciding whether to self-identify, there are several factors to consider. Disclosing your disability allows you to request accommodations that you legally deserve. However, if you choose not to disclose, you may face challenges during the hiring process and on the job without those accommodations. It is essential to assess whether disclosing is beneficial to you and whether you are willing to work without the accommodations you need and deserve.

Mia Ives-Rublee, a disability justice initiative director, generally advises her clients to disclose their disability status for three reasons: to receive the accommodations they need, to have a legal case under the Americans with Disabilities Act if discrimination occurs, and to quickly determine if an environment is conducive to individuals with disabilities.

However, the decision to self-identify is deeply personal, and it is completely valid to choose not to disclose your disability status. The question itself can be uncomfortable for applicants who face frustration when proving their disability. It is up to you to decide if and when you feel comfortable disclosing your disability status, even if you know the self-identification will be kept confidential during the job application process.

Talking about disability is important because the demographics of disability in the U.S. have changed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Many individuals now have new disabilities as a result of the virus. As the economy recovers, people are reevaluating their work-life balance and considering how their workplace meets their needs, including those with disabilities. By discussing disability in the workplace and beyond, we can help destigmatize it and create a more inclusive society.

The goal is to normalize disability because it is a normal part of life. Once we achieve this, we can address it in practical ways and feel comfortable saying, "Yes, I do have a disability."  

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