Supporting People with Disabilities: When and how to disclose a disability

One of the key issues that came out of last October’s Disability Awareness Month was how and when to disclose a disability for both King County job applicants and employees with disabilities.

Applying for jobs and maintaining positions can be stressful for anyone, but for a person with a disability–whether visible or invisible–there are added layers of complexity. Should you disclose? When should you ask for accommodations…during the hiring process or after? Disclosure of a disability is a very personal decision. Whether or not you choose to disclose, it’s important to be aware of the law. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Washington Law Against Discrimination make it illegal for an employer to discriminate against a qualified applicant or employee with a disability.

When to disclose

Under the ADA you can request an accommodation at any time during the application process or while you are employed.

If you are applying to a job within King County, you only need to disclose your disability if you feel like you need assistance during the hiring process. You should inform the recruiter that you need some sort of adjustment to the application or interviewing process orally or in writing. It may take some time for them to arrange it, so you should give them as much notice as possible. The need for reasonable accommodations on the job does not require disclosure or discussion of a disability prior to the start of employment. An applicant’s request for a reasonable accommodation may begin either before or after a job offer has been made.

If you are a current King County employee, you can request an accommodation at any time that you feel your disability is impacting your ability to complete your job’s duties and responsibilities (even if you did not disclose your disability when applying for the job or after receiving a job offer).

Who to disclose to

If you are applying to a King County job, let the recruiter of the position know of your need for an accommodation. They will get you in touch with Disability Services who can assist with accommodation requests.

If you are already a King County employee, you may contact your supervisor, Human Resources representative, or Disability Services directly.

Remember that you have a right to keep information about your disability private. It is not necessary to inform coworkers about your disability or your need for accommodations. While your supervisor or coworkers may be aware of the accommodations, especially if you are allowed to take extra breaks or you have a flexible starting time, they are not entitled to know why. King County is required by the ADA to keep your disability and medical information confidential; managers and supervisors will only be provided information regarding specific limitations and restrictions that result from the disability, not confidential diagnostic information.

What to disclose

When you disclose, just provide basic information about your medical condition, your limitations, and what accommodations you may need. Remember, the ADA contains strict confidentiality requirements. Medical information revealed during the hiring process and during employment must be kept confidential, with certain exceptions.

Examples of reasonable accommodations that may be provided to applicants with disabilities include:

  • Providing written materials in accessible formats, such as large print, braille, or audio files
  • Providing readers or sign language interpreters
  • Ensuring that recruitment, interviews, tests, and other components of the application process are held in accessible locations
  • Providing or modifying equipment or devices
  • Adjusting or modifying application policies and procedures.

Examples of reasonable accommodations that may be provided to employees with disabilities include:

  • A supervisor writes out feedback, rather than presenting it verbally, for an employee who communicates more effectively through written materials.
  • Furniture is moved to make a safer passageway for an employee who is blind.
  • Noise cancelling headset is provided to an employee with depression to help with concentration and focus.
  • Keeping all the essential functions, a job is modified by making it more consistent from day to day, allowing an employee with a cognitive disability to have a structured routine.
  • A flexible work schedule or later start time is provided to an employee with PTSD who experiences sleep problems due to their condition to assist them with morning fatigue.

King County is committed to providing reasonable accommodations to applicants and employees with disabilities to ensure that individuals with disabilities enjoy equal access to all employment opportunities. If you need assistance with accommodations with either applications or within the workplace, contact the recruiter, your Human Resources representative, supervisor, or Disability Services staff at 206-263-9329 or email

If you are interested in learning more about disability disclosure, consider checking out the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) video Deciding Whether to Disclose a Disability During an Interview (10 minutes) and webinar Disclosing a Disability in the Workplace (15 minutes).