5 Tips for Discussing Your Disability With Your Manager

I am lucky. As a person with complex disabilities, I’m still mobile and for the most part, able to do average day-to-day things such as working. I have a job in sales, in a fast-paced but young company that supports diversity across the board, including folks with disabilities. I thank the stars every day that I have such an accommodating environment to nature my career aspirations as well as help me keep my income steady.

When you’re working and disabled, it can sometimes be a frightening prospect to bring this up with your managers, especially if your health needs change midway through your employment. Here are the five tips I can share that helped me open an dialogue with my managers and company as a whole to make my on-the-job experiences better.

1. Know your rights. The Americans With Disabilities Act is designed to help protect you from discrimination in the workplace. It holds employers accountable for providing “reasonable accommodations” to workers with disabilities. Your local government may have additional or different protections that you should be aware of, too. You can call local disability advocate organizations if you are having trouble figuring out the complex laws. Just know before you have conversations of what you may specifically need, to help make it easier on your employer to follow the rules.

2. Write it out. For someone with constant brain fog, I find writing out ideas when I’m feeling my best is helpful. Plan out what topics you want to cover with your manager, how detailed you want to be about symptoms, and a list of exactly what you need to continue to do your job. Perhaps you need a service animal, a desk that a wheelchair can roll up to — whatever you need, be sure you can ask for it with clarity.

3. Know your company’s policies. One of the best things about my job is that we have an open “time off” policy. We don’t have vacation days — we are able to take time off if we’re sick or need it without penalty. I realize this is outside of the norm for most folks working, especially if you work in retail or service industries. Learn about your company’s time off policy so you are able to speak to that in your meeting with your manager. Explain to them what you do with your scheduling to accommodate for doctor’s visits or even working hours. If you can frame it in a way that fits the already standard policies, it can make the conversation easier for you.

Some companies allow you to work from home — mine is one of them. If you have a job that you could potentially do from home, and there is a policy for it, don’t be scared to ask. And even if there isn’t a policy, you may be able to pave the way for others.

4. Plan the chat. Make sure you speak to your manager about arranging a time to chat. Don’t spring this on them in the middle of a busy day, or leave a note. It’s critical that the conversation be done at a time when you can really talk it out with them. You may need to do it on a day off, or a less busy day for your business. Just be respectful of your manager’s time and schedule, and they will likely be able to figure out a time to chat.

5. Listen and share. The last one, which can be tough, is listen to what your employer has to say throughout the conversation. Be aware that they may have reservations about what you’re telling them, or concerns. Hear them out and offer answers backed up by facts or research. You could even provide doctors’ notes and information. Heck, I even gave my manager a book discussing one of my conditions. Make it a learning opportunity for them and break through some of the stigma of being a person with disabilities in the workplace.

After your discussion with your managers, offer to chat with coworkers in a meeting or even one-on-one to discuss your condition and what help you may need from them. Share only what you feel comfortable with, but don’t be afraid to be honest. The more you hide, the harder you can make it for yourself.

None of these are easy to do — in fact, the fear of being fired can make the conversation one of the toughest you’ll have on your journey. But preparing, and educating yourself beforehand can make the experience much less daunting.

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