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To Tell or Not to Tell

Over the years, individuals with disabilities and rehabilitation counselors have questioned whether or not to disclose disability in the letter of introduction when responding to job advertisements. If the disability is disclosed in the introduction letter then the individual may not be offered an interview based on discrimination from this first letter. If the individual chooses not to disclose their disability in the introduction letter, the interviewer may feel awkward and taken off guard, the building or the interview process may not be accessible, and therefore the individual may not get offered job. So should individuals with disabilities disclose their disability in the introduction letter or not?

This article addresses this question. The research team sent four response letters to 409 job advertisements for office clerical positions over a three month period (a total of 1636 applicant letters). Of the four applicant letters sent to each job ad, one letter disclosed no disability, one disclosed a hearing impairment, one mentioned walking with the assistance of crutches, and one mentioned having recovered from a reactive depression. There were no other differences in the letters other than the mention or omission of disability with of course minor variations such as name, addresses, and schools attended so that the letters did not all look exactly the same.

The hypotheses of this research were that "a) applicants for a job who made it plain in their application letter that they had a disability would be offered fewer job interviews than an identical applicant without a disability; and b) that employers differentiate between categories of disability.

Of the 1636 applicant letters, there were 331 positive responses asking an individual for an interview.

  • 146 of the positive responses were sent to the individuals with no mention of a disability.

  • 68 of the positive responses were sent to the individuals who mention a hearing loss disability.

  • 63 of the positive responses were sent to the individuals who mention a mobility limitation disability.

  • 54 of the positive responses were sent to the individuals who mention a depression disability.

The results of this researched showed that the hypotheses were correct. The most significant result was that when compared with those that made no mention of a disability, those letters that mentioned depression, were less likely to receive positive response letters.

This study does not go to the next step by monitoring the outcomes of interviews. This process would be much more difficult to control as interviewers and applicant personalities come into play in this step. However, this research does show that disclosing a disability in a letter of introduction may prevent a job seeker from receiving an interview.


Pearson, V., Yip, N., & Lo, E. (2003). To Tell or not to tell. The Journal of Rehabilitation. 69:4, 35-38.