I have had several interesting conversations in the last week with DLI members about how open we should be at work about being disabled. It seems to be one of the perennial questions that we all come back to, as we experience workplace prejudice over and over.
There is no right answer, only your answer.
Being disabled is the reason many DLI members are not appointed to jobs we are suitably qualified for. Prejudice is still common in the wider community, and that means in employment. There are still many people who cannot believe that disabled people are competent and capable senior leaders.
One DLI member I was speaking with insisted that they would not talk disability, nor include any references to disability in their job application or resume, until they had been appointed. This seems like the only way they will get past the assumptions and prejudice. Many disability leaders take months or years to find a position at their level of qualification and expertise.
Other DLI members tell harrowing stories of losing their senior positions once they became open about their disability. Being open is a high risk gamble.
The paradox is that we will not change the culture of organisations until more disabled people are in senior positions. So, if we are not open about disability are we preventing necessary culture change? Perhaps.
The difficulty is, we cannot change the culture unless we are inside the organisation. So, getting appointed is a necessary first step. Perhaps we do need to do whatever it takes to get appointed, so that we can make change.
Most disabilities are not visible. That means most disability leaders can make the choice about being open about their disability with prospective employers. Other disability leaders have more visible disabilities or require adjustments to attend interviews – for them there is no choice.
For most of us, not being open about disability means becoming exhausted by concealing it. Its also important to remember that you are not personally required to fight all the disability rights battles alone and by risking your own security. Disabled people are like everyone else; we need to pay the rent and eat.
It is your decision. It is your choice how you represent yourself to the world. There is no right answer, only your answer. The DLI is here as your community, to support you in whatever choice you make.