Why Employers Ask It
While federal law generally prohibits employers from inquiring about the existence or nature of a disability during the interview process, hiring officials maintain the legal right — not to mention the professional obligation — to ensure interviewees possess the physical abilities needed to perform the duties of desired jobs. More specifically, employers can legally ask whether the interviewee can perform the job duties with or without reasonable accommodations. However, hiring personnel may only use the potentially tricky interview question if the applicant possesses a visibly apparent handicap or voluntarily discloses the existence of a disability. Furthermore, the question only applies to situations in which the disability might hinder the ability of the interviewee to perform a specific task related to the job.
How To Answer
When to Disclose Disabilities or Special Needs
Acknowledging the need for personalized accommodations at the workplace may seem like a risky undertaking, as job seekers typically want to focus on providing solutions for the employer rather than creating new issues. However, though not required by law, proactively disclosing a job-related disability during the interview process frequently proves beneficial for all parties involved. Applicants who admit to needing reasonable accommodations often ease the pressure on interviewers, many of whom either lack an understanding of local and national hiring laws or dread initiating discussions about potentially delicate subjects like disabilities. In general, job seekers should only reveal the existence of a disability when the condition would require the employer to make an otherwise unnecessary adjustment, such as purchasing specialized software or accommodating the unique scheduling needs of the disabled worker. Even if special accommodations prove unnecessary, interviewees with visibly obvious disabilities may still want to address and explain the issue in order to dispel any preconceived notions or concerns the employer might have.
Refocus Responses on Abilities
When discussing disability at an interview, keep the conversation focused on the doable aspects of the job and avoid dwelling on the tasks requiring special accommodations. Demonstrate initiative, preparedness, and problem solving skills by not only disclosing the disability, but also suggesting feasible accommodations the employer could make. Most importantly, reframe the discussion to emphasize personal abilities over limitations. For example, a candidate describing the job-related effects of a back injury at an interview should highlight the ability to stand for X amount of time rather than bring up the inability to work on foot for long periods. Reframing the conversation in this way makes the interview more positive by drawing attention to the relevant capabilities of the applicant instead of the drawbacks of the disability. Prior to interviewing, research the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and other laws which protect job seekers from discriminatory hiring practices.