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Saturday, June 10, 2023

The Predicament of Disclosure

In The Politics of Autism, I write:
The continued growth in white collar and service sector employment (where job descriptions routinely stress interpersonal skills) creates obstacles for people with deficits in social communication. As one autistic person told The Huffington Post, “the conveyor belt of traditional employment puts you at a huge disadvantage with high-functioning autism, because you talk the way you do, and that's an automatic strike one.” In the workplace as in college, disclosure involves the dilemma of difference. Writes Katherine Bouton, an author with a hearing impairment: “If you announce your condition, you risk being stigmatized; if you keep it a secret, you risk poor performance reviews or even being fired.”

Disclosing an invisible disability can pose a risk for employees or students, as they may face prejudice, disbelief, or negative evaluation from others. This “predicament of disclosure,” where an individual must weigh the risks against potential benefits, can result in people hiding their condition. Registered social worker Melissa Sulit explains that there’s a difference between individuals not being given the opportunity to disclose their disability and not feeling comfortable disclosing their disability. As a personal example, Sulit explains that when she was completing her undergraduate degree, professors would request that students with disabilities register with the Access Centre and line up at the front of the lecture hall to submit their paperwork. This process resulted in individuals with disabilities having to reveal their diagnosis to their peers, which they may not have been comfortable sharing due to concerns relating to privacy or fears of how they may be perceived or treated by others.