Career resources for students with disabilities

Overview

Navigating the early stages of your career can be difficult. An important thing to remember is that employers care about hiring individuals who can perform the duties required of their roles. For this reason, securing a job will require that you understand and can communicate your skills and strengths in your applications.

As you consider where you want to work and what you want to do, you will also need to identify which environments and roles will enable you to apply your strengths and abilities. If you are a person with a disability you may be entitled to workplace accommodations to help you make a position work for you. This may require you to disclose your disability to your potential employer.

Disclosing to a potential employer

Disclosure is a choice, and is not always necessary. We have provided resources to help you decide if, when, and how you may disclose to a potential employer. Get in touch with an advisor, coach, or your peer communities to practice your approach and disclosure statements. This may help you feel more confident about the disclosure process. 

Remember that you are the expert of your situation. An employer may be able to help you identify possible accommodations but they will rely on you to identify your unique needs and the supports that will work best for you.  

Disability intersects with other experiences and identities. Check out the career navigation resource guides for students of colour and LGBTQ+ students for more resources.

Defining disability

When it comes to the world of work, there is no singular agreed upon definition of disability. Disability can be temporary, short-term or chronic, invisible or visible. Both physical and mental health are considered in the definition of disability.

Whether or not you are registered with UBC's Centre for Accessibility does not determine whether you can receive workplace accommodations from an employer. 

The most widely accepted definition of disability comes from the World Health Organization. According to the 2013 Federal Disability Reference Guide, disability is "an umbrella term, covering impairments, activity limitations, and participation restrictions. An impairment is a problem in body function or structure; an activity limitation is a difficulty encountered by an individual in executing a task or action; while a participation restriction is a problem experienced by an individual in involvement in life situations".

Your legal rights

Individuals with disabilities are protected under Canadian provincial and federal laws. For employees or job seekers in BC, you are protected under The British Columbia Human Rights Code and the Canadian Human Rights Act.

Under these regulations, employers have a duty to accommodate your disability up until the point of undue hardship. Undue hardship is identified by the courts through the assessment of financial costs, health and safety risks and the size and flexibility of the workplace.

An employer is not required to accommodate for bona fide occupational requirements, which are requirements of a role or qualifications needed to ensure efficient and safe completion of the task at hand.

Find more information on knowing your employment rights.

Employers' entitlements

If you choose to disclose your disability, an employer is entitled to ask for clarification about how it will impact your ability to perform the duties of the job, what types of accommodation may be required and for medical documentation about how your disability is likely to change over time. Any requests for medical documentation must ensure your privacy is protected by focusing on accommodation needs.

Connect with the Centre for Accessibility for guidance on requests related to medical documentation.

For more information about your employer’s obligations, refer to the in-depth National Educational Association of Disabled Students guide on duty of accommodation and disclosure. 

Disclosure and requests for accommodations

Disclosure

Disclosure refers to telling an employer about your disability or chronic health condition. The most important factor in deciding whether or not to disclose to an employer is your ability to do the job. If you will require accommodation to do the job, you must disclose so you can receive the accommodation you need to be successful in your role.

Accommodation

Accommodation refers to equipment, practices or policies that enable an employee with a disability to succeed in the workplace. Examples of accommodation include additional equipment or modifications to existing equipment (e.g., modified keyboards), flexible hours of work or modified work schedule, additional training, modified work environment (e.g., lower lighting, quiet areas), and customized work duties.

Check out the table below to help you determine the advantages and disadvantages of disclosure during different milestones of the job search and interview process. Additionally, The Canadian Council on Rehabilitation and Work offers a comprehensive online disclosure guide.

Disclosure options

Option

Advantages

Disadvantages

Our Recommendation

On the application, resume or cover letter

Disclosing at this time may provide an opportunity to identify strengths that are derived directly from your disability. It also demonstrates openness.

It may be especially worthwhile if the employer is recruiting for diversity or has an active diversity policy in their hiring processes.

There is limited space to describe your abilities and outline accommodation. You also do not have the opportunity to address the employers’ concerns.

The employer may screen you out, especially if they are not able to understand how your disability could be an advantage or how you could perform the essential work.

If the employer has an equity program or commitment to hiring for diversity we recommend disclosing at this time

If disclosing at this point, in addition to disclosing your disability, emphasize the skills, abilities, and if appropriate, the advantages that your disability will bring to the role.

When the interview is scheduled or shortly after the interview is scheduled

At this time, the employer has already expressed interest in your candidacy.  Disclosing to the employer may help them to prepare by making accommodations for your interview or identifying how they can support you with necessary workplace accommodations.

This provides an opportunity for you to discuss your disability with the employer.

If accommodations are needed, the employer may react with surprise and wonder why you had not disclosed earlier.

If you require accommodations for the interview, disclose at this time.

It is common for executive assistants or administrators to book interviews. If this is the case, ask to speak with the hiring manager so that you can disclose directly to them. In doing this, you will have the opportunity to control the message they receive.

During the interview or when you meet the employer for the first time

Disclosing at this time reduces the risk of the employer forming preconceived opinions. You can reassure the employer because you will be able to control the messaging.

You can answer questions and have an opportunity to speak to key related strength(s) you developed as a result of your disability.

The employer may react negatively to the surprise. They will not have had the chance to prepare questions for you, especially regarding accommodations or areas of the role that may appear to be more difficult with your disability.

Use this method if you are confident you can keep the employer focused on your abilities.

If your disability is not visible, use this option and focus on your abilities.

After receiving the job offer

If your disability won’t adversely affect your ability to do the job, the employer cannot retract the offer.

The employer may wonder why you had not disclosed earlier.

In this situation, if your disability is not visible, you may not need to disclose.

If you choose not to disclose, learn about your work environment and/or day-to-day tasks, and be proactive about ensuring you have strategies in place to support your success.

Tips for success

  • Securing a job will require you to understand and communicate your skills and strengths to employers. Learn more by attending a career workshop.
  • Building relationships with employers that interest you is a great way to navigate the job search process.  Find out how to successfully network.
  • As you consider where you want to work and what you want to do, also consider which environments will enable you to apply your strengths and abilities.

Additional resources

Additional Canadian resources 

Additional opportunities