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Equality and diversity in the workplace


If you have a disability, health condition, mental health issue or specific learning difficulty, you may need to take it into consideration when making a career choice. Certain jobs may aggravate any difficulties you have, however, the main barriers tend to be social ones, and they can usually be overcome.

The Equality Act 2010 prohibits all employers, with the exception of the armed forces, from treating applicants with disabilities less favourably than those without. It also requires employers to make reasonable adjustments to the workplace and offer support, if necessary, to disabled people at work.

Employment rights and reasonable adjustments

Employers should also make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to help employees and job applicants with disabilities. They should be able to help with:

  • application forms, for example providing forms in Braille or audio formats
  • aptitude tests, for example giving extra time to complete the tests
  • dismissal or redundancy
  • discipline and grievances
  • interview arrangements, such as providing wheelchair access, communicator support
  • making sure the workplace has the right facilities and equipment for disabled workers or someone offered a job
  • promotion, transfer and training opportunities
  • terms of employment, including pay
  • work-related benefits like access to recreation or refreshment facilities. provides information about your employment rights and the support available while you're looking for and in work, and also tells you what action you can take if you feel you've been discriminated against, either during the recruitment process or once you're in employment.

Access to work

The Access to Work scheme can offer further support if this isn’t covered by reasonable adjustments, and sometimes includes a grant to pay for special equipment or additional transport costs. It also applies if you're self-employed. An Access to Work (NI) scheme operates in Northern Ireland.

Inclusive employers

When applying for jobs you may want to look for employers who clearly display a positive attitude to applicants with disabilities. As well as positive language on their website or in the recruitment literature these indicators include:

  • displaying a disability confident symbol – this means that if you have a disability you are guaranteed an interview provided you meet the criteria for the job
  • being a member of the Business Disability Forum
  • offering application forms in alternative formats.

Telling prospective employers about your disability or health issue

Sharing information with employers about your disability or health issue can feel challenging. You may have questions about whether to do this and if so, when and how. In these podcasts, we'll discuss each issue from a range of viewpoints, so you can consider what is right for you.

Sharing information with employers about a disability

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Cathy: Hello and welcome to our podcast on sharing information with employers about your disability or health issue, when applying for jobs. My name is Cathy and my colleague Lynne and I are both careers advisers with the OU. Sharing information with employers about a disability or health issue, can feel challenging and students have many questions about whether to do this and if so, when to do this and how.

Lynne: So today, we are discussing these issues. We're going to look at each issue from a range of viewpoints and we're doing this, so you can consider what is right for you and can make a confident and informed decision about whether to tell a prospective employer and if you do decide to do this, you'll need to know how to talk to an employer effectively.

So the first issue we are going to discuss is whether to tell a prospective employer about your disability when you're applying for a job vacancy.

Deciding to share information about your disability is a matter of personal choice. You are actually under no legal obligation to do so, and it's for you to choose if and when you tell an employer.

Cathy: Lynne is going to present the case for sharing this information with an employer and I am going to challenge this and ask questions which I know students have asked me in the past.

So Lynne, convince me, what is the point of asking for adjustments and telling an employer about your disability or health issue when applying for a job – won’t it just put them off? Research by Great with Disability showed that 77% of people with disabilities are apprehensive about telling an employer in case of discrimination.

Lynne: Well the aim of telling the employer is to level the playing field, so the applicant has neither an advantage or a disadvantage. Sharing relevant information with an employer during the recruitment process ensures that the candidate can perform to the best of their ability. Once the adjustment has been made, the candidate can then be assessed on an equal basis with their peers. Let’s listen to what some of our employers said about that:

Employer quote from IBM

‘I would say any student out there who has any type of disability at all, if you feel comfortable or confident to do so please do let us know as early as possible where we can help you. So if it is something, for example, like dyslexia where you know in the past students with that disability would perhaps have more time at test during exam periods, or maybe more time to write essays or something like that, we'll give you exactly the same treatment that you would have got when you were at school or college as well in terms of giving you extra time. So early on in the application process you can let us know if you want to. There's no pressure to. If you feel like it’s not going to influence anything and it’s not - you don’t need any extra time or any adjustments at all then obviously it’s up to you completely if you want to disclose that to us. But if you do feel like actually by getting perhaps extra time to do the online test or maybe extra time during one of the assessment activities it’s going to be beneficial, then do just let us know. We'll always keep it confidential within our recruitment team. But I'd say that’s very – very helpful and even later in the process if you maybe didn’t want to tell us immediately when you applied but actually perhaps your assessment centre or your interview is coming closer and you think it would be beneficial to let us know then do. When you are in our process you will have a contact point so you can always get in touch with them at any point and let us know and we'll do our best to make sure that we give you extra time or whatever it might be that you need from us.‘

Employer quote from Gradconsult

‘I think the key one for me as a top tip is to disclose your disability. I found it extremely frustrating as an employer and recruiter over many years when having asked candidates if they would like to disclose a disability at multiple points in their recruitment process I'd then have people at an assessment centre coming out of exercise saying ‘oh by the way I – I have dyslexia. Please could you make adjustments in your marking?’ And that’s simply not possible at that point in time. It’s unfair to all of the other candidates in the process. If we’d know up front we could have made those adjustments and we could have dealt with everybody fairly. So the key for me is disclose and disclose early. Be up front and honest about the adjustments that you need and that will allow you to be assessed fairly.‘

Cathy: But I wonder if we're talking about two different things here? Some people may need to ask for reasonable adjustments during the recruitment process, as well as in the workplace, but others may want just to ask for adjustments once they've started the job, they may be ok with interviews for example.

Lynne: Yeah that’s right, and that’s why it's so important to be clear about what your needs are. If you don’t know what your needs are, it's difficult to tell others and difficult to recognise if you need adjustments during the recruitment process.

Cathy: So how'd you work out what your needs are? Some people listening to this, may be crystal clear about their needs and how to meet them, but others, for example if you have dyslexia or mental health issues, well, it's not always as straightforward. I suppose one way to identify needs and how to meet them, is to look at your experience as an OU student.

Lynne: Students don’t always realise this. The fact that they've achieved a degree through distance learning, proves to an employer that given the appropriate support, they can achieve great things. A good example is the note taking strategies which often have to be developed by students with dyslexia, who develop skills in noticing and prioritising the important points in a ream of information. This could be really useful in the workplace, in being able to identify important points in a project, or to write reports effectively.

An OU degree really says so much more about you than the academic ability you have alone.

Cathy: Yes, I really agree with that, I'm sure students recognise OU study proves they have initiative, good problem solving skills, commitment, self-motivation, self-discipline, determination, excellent organisational and time management skills, good communication and really well developed IT skills, to name but a few.

I bet every OU student listening to this, can recognise these skills in themselves and if not, I hope you do now!

OK, so OU study can prove you have a range of skills and it's also evidence of what you can achieve given appropriate support. Yep that makes sense.

Lynne: So would you feel comfortable sharing this information with an employer? There are benefits about being open about a disability: it means you can demonstrate your full potential; make sure you get the adjustments you need; you have honesty from the beginning of your relationship with the employer, and you can draw on your disability to answer interview questions, to show you can actually overcome challenges.

Cathy: Yeah, that sounds great and I understand those advantages, but my concern is that as soon as I disclose my disability in an application form or in a covering letter, it will give the employer a reason not to short list me for an interview, as they may think I’ll cause problems for them, when I know I won’t. So for me, timing is everything, I feel it is important to tell an employer at the time which feels right for you. For example, if you need adjustments for a job interview, maybe you have hearing impairment for example, then you need to let them know beforehand.

Lynne: I’m not sure it’s as simple as that. Not telling an employer in an application form or covering letter can restrict your choices when giving examples of your skills in a personal statement. How can you show them how you have overcome challenges, or how you can work in a team, if you don’t tell them about your disability?

Employer soundbite

‘I would say if, only if a student wanted to, they could even use any kind of experience they’ve had of anything like that in their life as examples, you know, as long as they felt comfortable doing so and they felt that actually that’s a really good example of one of our competencies about being driven and kind of a desire to succeed. So if they felt that that would be a you know a good example and they were happy to talk about that they could incorporate it there and actually use it as a real positive to demonstrate what they’ve done, how they’ve overcome things like this. But even if the student didn’t want to disclose it to us we wouldn't view them any differently from any other candidate.‘

Cathy: So are you saying that by hiding your disability, you are hiding your true self? Wow, I shall have to think about that.

Lynne: It’s important to decide what will meet your needs and to make sure you feel comfortable informing an employer, so you can inform them with confidence. Great with Disability are an organisation who support people with disabilities with regards to employment and they say that informing an employer with confidence can be broken down into three simple steps:

Step 1: choose a few words for each of these categories: firstly your disability or situation. Secondly, the implications and thirdly, your requirements.

Step 2: turn these words into a short, succinct ‘openness statement’. An openness statement is simply stating these three things: your disability, the implications and your requirements in a straightforward way.

Step 3: practice delivering your statement – to yourself, or family or a friend – it doesn’t matter but do practice saying it.

Cathy: OK, it makes sense that if you decide to tell an employer, to prepare and do this effectively, rather than just blurting out the first thing that comes into your head. In fact, I really like this, these same three steps could be used to decide if you want to disclose and if you decide to do this, at what point during the recruitment process you want to do this. I know the careers team have produced a webinar on this. It's called Opening Doors and you can find it on the careers website.

Lynne: Let me give you an example. If you have dyslexia or dyspraxia, then you know that is your disability. The implications of this might be a statement such as: ‘I have a weak short-term memory and I am unable to write comprehensive notes whilst I'm listening. My requirements are that I need to have handouts or information in advance and be able to record conversations, with participants’ permission of course’. Then you could give examples of situations where you have used strategies and support to overcome the issues faced by you.

Cathy: You have touched precisely on my concern. The issue of telling an employer, isn’t one size fits all. People need to think about what is right for them and their situation, they may even vary in their approach according to which employer and which vacancy's being applied for.

Lynne: Some employers have publicly stated they are positive about disability and it is easy to identify them. There are three main ways. Firstly, there's the business disability forum, then there is the two tick symbol and then there are organisations who make sure they place their vacancies with organisations which specialise in supporting people with disabilities into employment. You can read about this on the careers website and in our career planning and job seeking workbook – which you can order or view from the careers site.

Cathy: But the Equality Act covers all employers except the Armed Forces, and if you choose to tell an employer, I suppose yes you are covered by the Act. Having said that, it is a matter of personal choice, if and when to tell an employer.

Lynne: So what you're saying is that everyone needs to make their own mind up according to their situation and the job they're applying for and I’m saying that in general, telling an employer is more beneficial than not telling them, although there is no legal obligation to do so. You need to think about whether your disability raises a health and safety issue for you or your future colleagues, if this is the case, then telling an employer will ensure there is a safe working environment. You may also wish to disclose if you need adjustments, as we’ve discussed.

You are right, once you have told an employer about a disability, you are protected by the Equality Act. This means the employer must take all reasonable steps to provide the necessary adjustments and mustn’t discriminate against you because of your disability.

Cathy: So if you choose not to tell an employer and later on underperform, you are not covered by the Equality Act. An employer who was unaware of an employee’s condition can’t be judged to have discriminated against them.

Lynne: The types of adjustment you can ask for include: physical access, use of technology, change to the format of the interview, use of an interpreter, additional time and an orientation visit before the interview. It’s really important to remember that when to tell an employer also includes once you've been offered the job and you can choose who to tell, you can tell your line manager or HR and you can ask that your co-workers aren’t told, if that's what you'd prefer.

Cathy: I suppose if your condition affects the way you work, it can be helpful to be open with colleagues, so they understand and can help with particular needs.

Lynne: That’s right and there are similar points to consider throughout the application process, but if there is section on the application form asking about serious health conditions or disabilities, although you don’t have to disclose your disability here, you mustn’t lie. You can leave it blank. You can also use the personal statement section to tell the employer about your disability.

Cathy: One issue is having a gap in your CV due to the effects of your illness or disability. How do you deal with this? Just hope they won’t notice, or put a vague statement such as ‘personal circumstances to be discussed at interview’?

Lynne: Well you can use a covering letter to explain this and present it in a way which puts you in a positive light. The careers team can help you with this. If you mention a disability in a covering letter, show how it has further developed the skills and experience you've mentioned in your CV. For example, point to how well you’ve achieved your goals, despite any challenges. Some people prefer talking about it face to face at the interview, where they can more clearly demonstrate their skills. It's really up to the individual to make their choice.

Cathy: So we agree people need to think about the implications of their disability or health issue, and what their needs are. So if you decide to tell an employer, have positive examples ready to show that you've already overcome obstacles and you've already developed highly effective strategies which you can prove through your OU study.

Lynne: Yes, and to decide when to tell an employer, at the application stage, during the interview or after the job offer. To know exactly what you want to say and practice saying it. The careers team are more than happy to support people with this and there is advice on the webinar Opening Doors about how to tell an employer.

Cathy: So, we agree that people need to give some thought to this and make up their own minds.

Lynne: That we can agree on. Thank you for listening to this podcast and remember that the careers team are happy to support students in telling an employer and how and when to do this, if you decide this is right for you. So do feel free to get in touch with us.

You will also find further information and advice on Explaining a disability when applying for jobs.

Your career planning guide also contains information and advice on how to explain a disability to an employer in CVs, applications and covering letters.

Useful links

  • Disability Support

    Information on the additional support available for students at the OU.

  • Disability Rights UK - Doing Careers Differently

    Booklet outlining how to make a success of your career while living with a disability or health condition.

  • MyPlus Students

    Information and advice for disabled students and graduates who are applying for jobs and going through the recruitment process.

  • EmployAbility

    Not-for-profit organisation that supports disabled and dyslexic undergraduates and graduates by providing practical advice and guidance.

  • Scope

    Offers employment support to those looking for paid work in England and Wales.

  • Remploy

    Range of employment services to support disabled people and those experiencing complex barriers to gaining and retaining sustainable employment.

  • Royal National Institute for the Blind

    Information about looking for work, staying in work and becoming self-employed.

  • Blind in Business

    Charity that helps visually impaired students and graduates of all ages into work.

  • The Centre for Mental Health

    Employment for people with mental health difficulties using Individual Placement Support (IPS).

  • British Dyslexia Association

    Advice about your rights and looking for work when you have dyslexia.

  • The National Autistic Society

    Range of support with work and voluntary opportunities for people with autism and Asperger syndrome.

  • Guardian's Positive Action Scheme

    A placement scheme for people with disabilities.

If your concern isn’t covered here and you’d like further support, please get in touch and we may be able to provide details of further resources and organisations to contact.

How we can help

You will find information and advice about how to navigate these challenges, from planning your career, looking for jobs and work experience and applying for roles throughout this website.

Request a careers consultation

If you would like to discuss your options contact the Careers team.

Last updated 3 months ago