For Mental Illness, Should I Check the Disability Box?
I have a mental illness--a disability--but should I check the "disability" box when applying for a job? I recently was laid off at one job and had my hours cut at another, for a total loss of around $500 in income per month. I've dusted off my resumes and started applying for jobs, but have been hindered by a question: "Should I check the disability box?" Several businesses claim to be equal opportunity employers and make an effort to hire people with disabilities (Should You Disclose Mental Illness in the Workplace?). But can we trust them not to discriminate? Should we check the box that says we have a mental illness disability?
Should We Leave a Mental Illness Disability Off the Resume?
The first thing job seekers need to ask themselves is, 'Can I do the job?'” says Jonathan Kaufman, president of DisabilityWorks.com. “If the answer is yes and the disability doesn't affect job performance, then don't mention it.
Jeff Klare, CEO of Hire DisAbility Solutions, has a similar view:
"Never reveal a disability on a resume," he says, citing the possibility of discrimination or preconceived, inaccurate notions about disabilities as the primary reasons to avoid the topic.
Dr. Daniel J. Ryan, author of The Job Search Handbook for People with Disabilities and director of career planning at the University at Buffalo, State University of New York, concurs:
Employers use resumes to weed people out, so anything on the resume that would allude to a disability -- given the realities of the marketplace -- will probably work against you."
Yes, it's illegal to discriminate, and under the Americans with Disabilities Act you don't have to say anything even if asked. Use your best judgment.
I personally fudge it. I write that I am a mental health blogger for HealthyPlace and have been for seven years. While this is risky as it might reveal the fact that I have a mental health condition, it shows that I am an employee who can stick with a job for a long time. I also mention my Web Health Award. But I don't directly say I have a mental illness disability. Maybe this is self-stigma but I've learned to be cautious.
Job Coaches and Mental Illness Disability
I had a job coach for a while who quit long before I found a job. She told me that she'd contacted one potential employer who became concerned the second she identified herself as a job coach. His first question was, "I have knives in the kitchen; is anyone going to get hurt?"
Then he said, "A mentally disabled person may not be able to keep up with this fast-paced job."
My two years of experience in the business and excellent references didn't matter because of his preconceived notions about mental illness disability. Ever since then I've looked for work on my own because using a job coach is a dead giveaway that you have a disability.
There are advantages to having a job coach. It's helpful to have someone who knows your history and your strengths and resources. Two heads are better than one. Your job coach might have some contacts you don't, and your job coach's job is to "sell" you to the employer. That said, I personally don't use a job coach because every experience I've had with job coaches has been negative. My goal is to get the interview, and using a job coach can make it that much harder to do.
Again, use your best judgment.
Know Your Rights as a Person with a Mental Illness Disability
You have rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Your potential employer can not ask about your disability--the form that you can check identifying yourself as disabled is to please the federal government. You do not have to answer any questions about your disability. But I'll be blunt--your mental illness disability will come up. You have to reveal what medications you're on that might throw the drug test off. You also will be asked about what accommodations you will need to do the job. Be honest. Any place that refuses to hire you because of your disability is a place not worth working at.
Normally, it's best to wait until after you get a job to mention the fact you have a disability, but it's at your discretion (Keeping a Job When You Have Bipolar Disorder). Some of my employers don't know that I have a mental health condition, some do. I prefer to let employers know I have a disability, but I keep it vague. I don't tell them it's a mental health condition until it becomes an obvious problem. You have to decide what's best for you.
To check the disability box with a mental illness, or not to check? That is no easy question.
Oberg, B. (2017, February 6). For Mental Illness, Should I Check the Disability Box?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, September 30 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/recoveringfrommentalillness/2017/02/should-i-check-the-disability-box
Author: Becky Oberg
Really nice port. I appreciate this kind of effort made by you.
As someone who suffers from mental illness, I always leave that box unchecked. Unless my illness will hinder my ability to do my job, I refrain from telling any employer. Even though it is illegal to discriminate based on mental illness, you just never know.
One thing that I think is important for people with disabilities to know is that not all employers have to adhere to the ADA. Employers with fewer than 15 employees are exempt. Historically I have done better than with small businesses but they don't have to make accommodations under the law. I cannot request them and have to trust the employer to help me to get my needs met.