Disclosing a Disability: Do Strategy Type and Onset Controllability Make a Difference?

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In hiring contexts, individuals with concealable disabilities make decisions about how they should disclose their disability to overcome observers’ biases. Previous research has investigated the effectiveness of binary disclosure decisions—that is, to disclose or conceal a disability—but we know little about how, why, or under what conditions different types of disclosure strategies impact observers’ hiring intentions. In this article, we examine disability onset controllability (i.e., whether the applicant is seen as responsible for their disability onset) as a boundary condition for how disclosure strategy type influences the affective reactions (i.e., pity, admiration) that underlie observers’ hiring intentions. Across 2 experiments, we found that when applicants are seen as responsible for their disability, strategies that de-emphasize the disability (rather than embrace it) lower observers’ hiring intentions by elevating their pity reactions. Thus, the effectiveness of different types of disability disclosure strategies differs as a function of onset controllability. We discuss implications for theory and practice for individuals with disabilities and organizations.

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