1. Skip to content

Hidden Disabilities in the Workplace

Do you or your coworker have a hidden disability?

Some disabilities are not obvious. In fact, hidden disabilities are common and can affect work or daily living. Having a disability may not affect your job performance. However, others may need job accommodations to perform the essential functions of their job.

It is much easier to keep your job than to find a new one. Rather than quit your job, you can request accommodations and/or modifications to be able to perform the major functions of your current job. You may also qualify for another job with your current employer where you can perform the required duties with or without accommodations.

Examples of Hidden Disabilities

For a list of impairment specific accommodations, see Accommodation Information: A - Z. Or explore the Searchable Online Accommodation Resource (SOAR).

Hidden disabilities occur in many forms. The following is a sampling:

  • Anxiety Disorders
  • Arthritis
  • Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)
  • Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • Autism Spectrum Disorders
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Brain Injury
  • Cancer
  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
  • Chronic Pain
  • Depression
  • Diabetes
  • Epilepsy
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Gastrointestinal Disorders
  • Hearing Loss
  • Heart Conditions
  • Learning Disabilities
  • Lupus
  • Lyme Disease
  • Migraine Headaches
  • Multiple Chemical Sensitivity
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Post-traumatic Stress Disorder
  • Respiratory Disorders
  • Sleep Disorders
  • Vision Impairments

Disclosing Disabilities

The main reason to disclose a disability is to request a reasonable accommodation. A reasonable accommodation allows an employee with a disability to do the job. If you can perform the essential functions of the job without accommodations, you may not want to disclose you have a disability.

  • You must disclose you have a disability to be protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
  • You only need to disclose medical conditions that require an accommodation.
  • You do not need to disclose your disability to coworkers.
  • Be prepared to discuss reasonable accommodations with your employer. Suggest solutions that will allow you to perform the essential functions of the job.
  • Learn about the types of reasonable accommodations and how to discuss accommodations to perform the job.
  • Some examples of workplace accommodations are to modify the work schedule, provide information in a written format, use assistive devices and technology, or sit rather than stand to perform a job.

Weigh the pros and cons of discussing your disability with an employer.

Pros of Disclosing:

  • To receive reasonable accommodations to perform the essential functions of the job
  • To establish a positive and open relationship with the employer
  • To provide legal protection against discrimination

Cons of Disclosing:

  • You may be viewed as less capable than others.
  • You may be treated differently due to misconceptions about disabilities.
  • You cannot take back your disclosure once your disability is known.

When to Disclose

You can disclose at any time. If you decide to disclose during the interview process, mention your disability briefly. Give examples of how you've performed job duties in the past, especially tasks related to the job for which you are interviewing.

Some employers may require new hires to pass a medical exam or other tests related to the job. If test results indicate that you have a disability, read more about pre-employment disability-related questions and medical examinations.

According to the ADA, the employer:

"cannot withdraw the job offer solely because you revealed you have a disability. Instead, the employer can withdraw the job offer only if it can show that you are unable to perform the essential functions of the job (with or without reasonable accommodation), or that you pose a significant risk of causing substantial harm to yourself or others."

If you decide to disclose after you are hired, it is best to request a reasonable accommodation when you are in need of one, but before problems with job performance occur. Explain how the accommodation will assist you in meeting the work goals.