The Way Disabilities Are Disclosed May Affect Employment Decisions

Topic(s): fairness, selection
Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology, 2017
Article: Disclosing a Disability: Do Strategy Type and Onset Controllability Make a Difference?
Authors: B.J. Lyons, S.D. Volpone, J.L. Wessel, N.M. Alonso
Reviewed by: William Hasek

People with disabilities are often stereotyped as helpless, incapable, and dependent. These stereotypes can be damaging during the job interview process. Some people have disabilities that are not easily seen by others. For instance, it is not easy to tell if a person is suffering from chronic pain or has been diagnosed with a learning disorder. People with these “invisible” disabilities often struggle in deciding whether to reveal their disability during a job interview. Concealing their disability prevents stereotyping, but it also means that they will have to maintain a secret and will not receive the accommodations they may require for work. Because of this, individuals often choose to reveal their disabilities. When they reveal them, they use strategies to influence the way they are perceived.

INTERVIEW STRATEGIES FOR PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES

Previous research has shown that people often rely on one of two strategies when revealing a disability. The first strategy involves talking about the disability as a source of strength. The second strategy involves minimizing the importance of the disability while emphasizing the importance of other credentials—such as professional strengths and abilities. Previous research has shown that using these strategies can allow people with disabilities to decrease reactions of pity and increase reactions of admiration.

The authors of the current study (Lyons, Volpone, Wessel, and Alonso, 2017) examined whether the effectiveness of these strategies changed when an individual is perceived as being responsible for their disability. For example, one person could become deaf from a childhood ear infection whereas another person could become deaf from listening to loud music. Generally speaking, the first person would not be perceived as responsible for their disability, whereas the second person would be perceived as responsible. Each of these people may have to talk about their disability in different ways to minimize reactions of pity from employers and to increase their chances of being hired.

THE BETTER WAY TO DISCLOSE DISABILITIES

The research showed that when an individual is perceived as not responsible for their disability, they benefited from use of both the strategies discussed above (i.e., framing disability as a strength and minimizing importance of disability.) However, minimizing the importance of the disability tended to be more effective in decreasing pity reactions and increasing the potential employer’s intention to hire the candidate. By contrast, when an individual was perceived as being responsible for their disability, the minimizing strategy backfired, increasing pity reactions and decreasing intention to hire the candidate. Interestingly, both of the strategies increased admiration from potential employers, regardless of whether the individual was perceived as being responsible for the disability. That being noted, these increases in admiration were not associated with increased intentions to hire.

PRACTICAL IMPLICATIONS

The researchers outlined two major practical implications of this study. First, if an individual could be perceived as responsible for their disability, they are likely to benefit from talking about their disability as a source of strength. These individuals should avoid minimizing the importance of the disability, as this is likely to backfire. Second, organizations should work with hiring managers to ensure that they are aware of their biases toward people with disabilities. Organizations should ensure that hiring managers make their decisions solely on the basis of information that is objectively relevant to the job. Decisions made in this way would not be influenced by interview strategies, focusing instead on the potential employee’s knowledge, skills, and abilities.

 

Lyons, B. J., Volpone, S. D., Wessel, J. L., & Alonso, N. M. (2017). Disclosing a disability: Do strategy type and onset controllability make a difference? Journal of Applied Psychology, 102(9), 1375-1383. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/apl0000230

 

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