Recently, there’s been a flurry of emails in one of my subscribed email lists about some recent regulations that require employers to ask if their employees have a disability. I’ll list the main points of the linked Wall Street Journal article.

  1. U.S. regulations now require federal contractors to ask their employees if they have a disability. It is up to employees to determine if they wish to disclose any information. (So the title is actually misleading, as the bosses don’t need to know.)
  2. Those contractors that don’t employ a minimum of 7 percent, or can’t prove they are taking steps to achieve this goal, could face penalties.
  3. This applies to contractors with at least 50 employees or at least $50,000 in government money.
  4. The Labor Department issued these regulations to help combat the high jobless rate of the disabled population.

Some people responded to the email list saying that these regulations were long overdue, but a few were not satisfied or had reservations. (To put it briefly, I think these are “overdue” mainly because they help raise awareness of the challenges disabled people face in the workforce, but for now I’ll discuss what others have said.)

A number of people talked about how disclosing information is a difficult and sensitive topic for people with hidden disabilities. Should they tell their bosses or not? Consider the case of someone with a hidden disability applying for a job. Do they feel confident enough to disclose their disability to a hiring committee before any job offer? I suspect that if the job applicant knows that these contractors are trying to recruit people with disabilities, that will raise the probability of disclosure, but I doubt any information will be easily accessible.

Related to the visible/hidden disability discussion, some also worried that employers would give preference to people with visible disabilities to fill in the ranks if not enough employees were willing to disclose hidden disabilities. Because of how the ADA has expanded the definition of a disability, it’s very likely that contractors already have way more than 7% of employees who are disabled.

And of course, there is the possibility that managers and hiring committees of these contractors will protest, arguing that they now have to “lower the bar” to hire a specific group of people.

There didn’t seem to be much discussion about deaf people, which would have been related to the visible/hidden disability discussion because I would argue that deafness can fall in both categories.