More than three quarters of graduates afraid to be open about their disability

  • 1,040 graduates and students took part in the online research, all of whom stated that they had a disability or long term health condition
  • 77% fear they will be discriminated against
  • 72% worry that they will be a nuisance to employers
  • Those with mental health conditions are least likely to be open

greatwithdisabilityA new survey, conducted by and published today (Friday 13 March), reveals the reluctance of graduates to be open about their disabilities or health conditions to potential employers.

Openness: understanding why students are reluctant to be open with employers about their disabilitya survey of more than a thousand disabled students and graduates, found that 76% are concerned about being open about their disability or condition to employers. 77% feared being discriminated against, while 72% are worried about making a nuisance of themselves.

Respondents included graduates and students with a wide range of disabilities including dyslexia, autism, wheelchair users and speech impairment. Those with mental health issues were found to be the most reluctant to be open about their condition (78%), while those in a wheelchair showed the least concern (39%).

Helen Cooke, founder of and an expert in disability and graduate recruitment, said: “This issue is of great importance to graduates and employers as well as the UK workforce. An employer is unable to make the adjustments or provide the support an individual may need to navigate the recruitment process if they are unaware of their disability or health condition. As a result, organisations often miss out on top talent, and individuals miss out on the opportunity to display their skills and achieve their potential.”

The research, sponsored by Bank of America Merrill Lynch, looked into the best ways to encourage openness from disabled students and graduates. 71% would be encouraged by seeing examples of current disabled employees at the organisation who had benefitted from being open about their condition, while 70% said they would be more likely to be open if there was a dedicated member of staff to whom they could talk to during the recruitment process.

The survey also found that students and graduates needed to receive the right encouragement and advice from university disability and careers services. 4 out of 5 respondents said they were more likely to be open about their disability in an application if their careers or disability adviser had recommended the company as ‘disability confident’.

In addition, almost half the respondents had sought out advice on whether or not to be open with their disability during recruitment. Guidance was most frequently sought from career advisors and parents, followed by university disability advisors. Of those who requested advice, 65% were discouraged from being open about their disability. Friends and family were most likely to counsel against being open with information. Those with mental health issues were most likely to be encouraged not to tell employers, with 37% of people with mental health issues having been told not to inform about their disability.

Helen Cooke continued: “The results clearly show that employers need to communicate their ability to support those with disabilities and health conditions through the recruitment process and in the workplace. Websites are a key marketing tool for promoting ‘disability confidence’, and for showcasing examples of successful employees, including those who have a disability.

The problem cannot be solved by employers alone. Universities and the support networks of disabled graduates, whether they be friends or family, need to do their part too.  Universities and employers need to work together so that students and graduates receive appropriate and helpful advice about the benefits of being open and the best ways to do so. Friends and family of graduates should educate themselves about the benefits that might be available to a recruit who is open about their condition. Such benefits could include additional support in interviews or in the workplace itself. In addition, it must be acknowledged that in today’s world, disability does not mean hindrance.

Jonathan, an undergraduate from King’s College London, who took part in the research said: “I want to be hired because I am suitable and can do the job, not because they have a quota to fill in their company.

Ama Afrifa-Kyei, the Diversity & Inclusion Manager at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, who sponsored this report, said: “Openness is a challenging subject – not least for large companies. But it is one that businesses need to understand and overcome if they wish to be successful. At Bank of America Merrill Lynch we have a saying – ‘bring your whole self to work’. This is borne from an understanding that our employees are the lifeblood of the company; so by encouraging an inclusive workplace, we aim for everyone to have the best possible experience throughout their career.”

“We hope that the conclusions of this research will assist in equipping companies with a better understanding of what is needed to encourage applicants to be open and confident in sharing personal information. For us, a strong and diverse workforce is at the heart of our business so we are extremely proud to sponsor this report.”

Stephen Isherwood, Chief Executive of the Association of Graduate Recruiters, said: “This report sets out many steps employers can make themselves more accessible, how educators can enhance the advice they give, and it also highlights what students themselves can do improve their employment prospects. It is incumbent on all stakeholders to take the steps outlined in this excellent report. Too many talented people are being hindered in achieving their full potential.”

James, a graduate from the University of Bath who took part in the survey, commented: “Being open is about being asked the right questions…The right questions to be asked at interview aren’t about what you disclosed on your application form, but about whether you are suitable for the job”

Key Recommendations

  1. To encourage applicants to be open about their disability, employers need to market themselves effectively through the University careers services as a ‘disability confident’ employer.
  2. Employers need to clearly set out and promote the benefits of being open, in order to encourage applicants to be open.
  3. Employers must provide information about how the information that disabled students provide will be used and who it will be shared with.
  4. Employers are strongly advised to include profiles of current employees who have been open about their disability showing the support they were able to gain as a result of this.
  5. Employers are also advised to provide information, and examples, on the types of support they can provide and have provided in the past. Profiles / case studies of employees are the best way to bring this to life.
  6. Employers must recognise that applicants differ in the way they wish to inform them of their disability and therefore need to provide a choice of how they can do this including: on the application form, by email, use of a covering letter and by phone.
  7. Employers should try to provide a named individual for the applicant to contact either by phone or email; a named individual is preferable compared to a generic email address or phone line.
  8. Employers should duplicate the information they provide to the University Careers Service with the Disability Office to ensure disabled students access information about them as a disability confident organisation.
  9. University Careers Services must ensure that they are able to advise their students appropriately and that there is consistency in the advice being provided.
  10. Developing strong working relationships between the Careers Service and the Disability Office will help ensure that disabled students receive appropriate advice from the person best qualified to provide it.

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