To Disclose or not to Disclose a Disability?

Benjamin A. WinnickBy: Benjamin A. Winnick

This is the first post in a series entitled “Issues I face as a working adult with a disability”

Do I tell others about my disability? If yes, when? And if no, why not? And how much information is the right amount to share?

I have chosen to disclose my disability but it wasn’t an easy choice. I want to be treated and respected the same as my peers and co-workers, but without sharing the understanding of my specific issues I face the real possibility that I could be fired for behaviors that I can’t control. In a previous job I was fired because the supervisor did not understand how I communicate and he expected me to understand his subtle facial expressions when he was displeased with my work. I had no idea that things were going badly until the day I was fired.

As an adult with a non-verbal learning disability, I am not always aware of social cues and often misread communication that others take for granted. This is especially true when faced with supervisors who don’t understand [or are not willing to accommodate] the type of direct and, often, repetitive instructions that help me be successful. I also need someone who is willing to re-focus my attention on the work that needs to be done as I am easily distracted and am not always aware of my wandering attention away from the tasks at hand.

Disclose a disability

Benjamin (right) and his fellow Transitions to Work graduates (credit: JVS staff)

I am grateful that I was able to participate in the Jewish Vocational Service Transitions Program at Newbridge on the Charles (NBOC). I am currently working [and getting paid] 3 days a week at NBOC for an organization which has made a commitment to hire adults with disabilities. Because of their commitment and the training I received from the Transitions Program, I have kept my job for over 2 years. We do have instances where my boss is not happy with something I have done [or not done] and I am not always aware that he is not happy with my work. I am lucky that there continues to be a JVS job coach working in the building who can step in to help my supervisor communicate his concerns about my work.

I didn’t start out wanting to tell everyone about my disability and I don’t want to be treated differently in my work environment. I am willing to work hard. All I want is to be the same as everyone else and treated with respect. But now that I have learned that disclosing my issues and having others at work understand my unique needs helps me to be successful, I know this is the right thing to do for me.

Ben Winnick is 32 years old and grew up in Needham, MA. He currently lives in Brighton, MA and works in the commercial kitchen at Newbridge on the Charles, an assisted living and skilled nursing facility in Dedham, MA. Ben loves animals and especially his family labradoodle, Kasey. The Ruderman Family Foundation is a proud partner in the Transitions to Work Program.

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