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Resume Tips for Job Seekers with Disabilities

Millions of job seekers with disabilities are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Don't disclose your disability on your resume. Your objective is to get an interview. Save disclosure until a better time, if at all.

Generally, the ADA forbids employers that have more than 15 employees from doing the following:

  • Discriminating on the basis of any physical or mental disability

  • Asking job applicants questions about their past or current medical conditions

  • Requiring applicants to take pre-employment medical exams

The ADA requires that an employer make reasonable accommodations for qualified individuals who have disabilities, unless doing so would cause the employer “undue hardship.” The undue hardship provision is still open to interpretation by the courts.

If you have a disability that you believe is covered by the ADA, familiarize yourself with the law’s specifics. Refer to the U.S. Department of Justice’s ADA home page. For further information, call your member of Congress, visit your library, or obtain free comprehensive ADA guides and supporting materials from the Web site maintained by the Job Accommodation Network.

Deciding whether to disclose a disability

Here are a couple of guidelines for deciding when and whether to disclose a disability:

  • If your disability is visible, the best time to disclose it is after the interview has been set and you telephone to confirm the arrangements. Pass the message in an offhanded manner: “Because I use a wheelchair for mobility, can you suggest which entrance to your building would be the most convenient?” Alternatively, you may want to reserve disclosure for the interview.

  • If your disability is not visible, such as mental illness or epilepsy, you need not disclose it in your resume or on the phone unless you’ll need special accommodations. Even then, you can hold the disclosure until the negotiating stage once you’ve received a potential job offer.

No matter what you decide to do, be confident, unapologetic, unimpaired, and attitude-positive.

Explaining gaps in work history

What can you do about gaps in your work history caused by disability? In years past, you may have been able to obscure the issue. No longer. New computer databases make it easy for suspicious employers to research your medical history. And with health insurance costs so high, they may do exactly that.

If your illness-related job history has numerous gaps, write “Illness and Recovery” next to the dates in your resume. It’s honest, and the “recovery” part says, “I’m back and ready to work!”

If you have too many work history gaps, your work history will look less shaky in a functional resume format. Online resume discussion groups, which you can find through the Job Accommodation Network, can serve as further sources of guidance on this difficult issue.

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