Deciding whether to disclose a disability to a potential or current employer can be a challenge.

And it's a question many people encounter. About one in four adults in Massachusetts has a disability, according to 2021 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. To help them weigh the pros and cons of disclosing, and navigate that process, the Massachusetts Office on Disability held a public workshop Tuesday.

“Do you want to disclose that you have a disability? Do you need to disclose that you have a disability for a particular reason? Who do you disclose to if you're going to disclose? And would it be different depending on the reasons why you're doing it? And finally, what do you want to say if you do decide to disclose that you have a disability?” said Naomi Goldberg of the Massachusetts Office on Disability.

The small state agency provides information and technical guidance on disability rights and architectural or physical accessibility. The workshops are part of a federally funded program. There will be future sessions on disclosure June 12, Aug. 27 and Nov. 13.

Why to disclose

People with disabilities don’t have to disclose their diagnosis to an employer, but would have to disclose relevant functional limitations to their position.

Some positive outcomes from disclosure could be your employer appreciating you mentioned it early on, having the feeling you can be fully yourself at work, and feeling prepared in case you need medical accommodation in the future. It can also be a way to share how your experience makes you an asset, or explain how you work. One example of that could be saying, “due to my condition, color coding keeps me organized.”

During the application process, mentioning a disability may also help you explain a gap in your work history from illness.

And you are later referred for another job, the Massachusetts Office of Disability said your employer is not allowed to disclose if you have a disability to another employer.

But if you decide to disclose, you may want to consider who you are telling and what you say.

“A reason why you want to be really careful about who you're sharing information with: Coworkers have no obligation to keep your information confidential, disability or not,” said Sarah Wiles from the Massachusetts Office of Disability. “Supervisors should keep it on a need-to-know basis. But, you know, just be careful. Protect yourself.”

Why not to disclose

There can be negative consequences for disclosing a disability, including potential stereotypes or discrimination.

Workshop attendee Dr. Lauran Star Raduazo told GBH News she encountered hurdles related to disclosure at her previous job.

“I disclosed that I had dyslexia in the interview, was hired to come on board and then found it to be an absolute nightmare,” she said. “Like, 'Don't send that over to Lauran. Don't let her do the PowerPoint deck. She's dyslexic.’”

Raduazo said the “toxic” experience showed her there’’s a “huge gap” in awareness by employers when it comes to disabilities, and showed that companies don’t want to invest time and energy in their employees.

Raduazo left the company after four months and landed a job at Commonwealth Care Alliance, an employer she says fully supports her disclosure and provides useful tools like screen readers. She hopes future workshops help people like her avoid discriminatory employers.

How to respond to questions

The workshop included examples on how to answer inappropriate questions about performance limitations based off a disclosed disability in the hiring process.

One way to respond, the Massachusetts Office of Disability said in a presentation, is to say something like, “It seems like your question is about whether I can [state the task and 2 to 3 qualities related to it that make you a good candidate].”

Another way could be to say you’ve reviewed the job description and can complete the essential functions of the position.

Wiles said that questions from employers can be “jarring,” during or after disclosure, so it’s helpful to consider what type of question might come up.

“You can kind of deal with these questions, spin to the positives and highlight your strengths. Pivot to the underlying concern about the job performance. And be prepared with a professional response,” she said.