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Asking About Disability and Respecting Confidentiality in One-Stop Service Delivery

For a variety of legal, ethical, and practical reasons, the One-Stop system should create a culture that shows respect for an individuals right to privacy. Local One-Stop systems should have clear guidelines for staff concerning sharing of any personal information about a customer with other staff and service providers, including information about a persons disability. People with disabilities vary significantly in their comfort level concerning disclosing information about their disability. It is important that One-Stop systems consider disclosure and confidentiality issues in service delivery for people with disabilities, and that One-Stop staff be well versed in proper guidelines for respecting the privacy of all customers.

Different rules for service providers and employers

There are important distinctions about inquiries and disclosure of disability-related information:

  • Through the course of delivery of services, One-Stop staff may become aware that a customer has a disability. As a provider of services, the One-System is legally permitted to make inquiries about the presence of disability (see below for more specific guidelines)
  • Employers however, are not permitted to ask about the presence of a disability, prior to an offer of employment.

The implication of this distinction is that One-Stop staff may have more information about a customer, then they are permitted to provide to employers they contact on behalf of a customer. What this also means is that the One-Stop system must abide by one set of rules as an employer, and another as a service provider. One-Stop staff should clearly understand this distinction. (Further information about disclosure in the job development process is contained in section 7 on job development.)

Inquiries Must Be Done for a Good Reason

One-Stop staff may not make unnecessary inquiries into the existence of a disability. However, USDOL regulations require that One-Stop Career Centers inquire about disability for collection of demographic information (DOLETA TEGL No. 9-02, October 4, 2002). However, such inquiries should be made of every customer (not just those who appear to have a disability), and it is a completely voluntary decision by the customer concerning whether or not to supply any disability information. If an individual declines to indicate his/her disability status, the One-Stop must still provide services to the individual.

In addition to the requirement to collect demographic information, other reasons for inquiring about disability may include:

  • to determine if the individual is eligible for special services or funding as a result of the individuals disability
  • to ensure that accommodation needs are met so the individual can fully benefit from services.

Requests for information concerning the presence of a disability cannot be used as a basis for excluding individuals from receiving services. It is illegal to deny services based on an individuals disability, unless the disability cannot be reasonably accommodated (for more specific information, see the piece entitled One-Stop System: Legal Guidelines & Requirements for Serving People with Disabilities)

Suggested Guidelines for Disability Inquiries

The One-Stop system and One-Stop Centers are advised to make any inquiries concerning disability with caution, limiting the request for information only to that which is absolutely necessary, and taking the necessary steps to ensure that this information is kept confidential. The following are suggested guidelines for inquiries about disability issues:

Registration and intake

  • Requests for information about presence of a disability during the registration/intake process should be made only in writing (i.e., individuals should not have to verbally respond to questions such as Do you have a disability?, particularly in a public area, group setting, or area where they could be overheard). A simple yes/no check-off box on the registration/intake form is suggested.
  • If an individual will need assistance in filling out a registration/intake form, this should be done in a private area, where responses will not be overheard.
  • The reason(s) for asking for this information should be made very clear (e.g., providing this information may make you eligible for services to which you may not otherwise be entitled).
  • It should be stated both verbally and in writing, that the decision to disclose any information concerning the presence of a disability is strictly voluntary.

During the course of service delivery

  • Discretion should be used in discussing disability issues with customers. As noted, people with disabilities vary significantly concerning their openness about disability issues, and comfort level in others knowing about such issues. If One-Stop staff anticipate that disability-related issues may arise during a discussion with a customer, staff should ask the customer if they would prefer to hold the meeting in an area where the conversation will not be overheard by others (e.g., one-on-one in a private office, and not in an office cubicle where conversations are easily overheard).
  • One-Stop staff should avoid asking about presence of disability or specific questions about an individuals disability in group settings.
  • Knowledge and access to information concerning an individuals disability should be limited only to staff who require this information for service delivery.
  • Staff should be respectful of privacy issues when discussing a customers needs with other staff. Particularly when discussing more sensitive issues (for example, a history of mental illness), only those staff who are specifically involved in service delivery for the individual should be part of such discussions. Such discussions should be held in a private area, where they cannot be overheard.
  • The information requested and discussed with customers and One-Stop staff should be limited strictly to that which would impact the job search/placement process. For example, the full medical history of a persons disability is not necessary, when all that is needed is information concerning how the disability will impact the persons ability to obtain and maintain employment.

Maintain confidentiality of records

  • Steps should be taken to ensure that records and case notes are kept confidential. This includes keeping paper files and records in secure places, and designing electronic information systems with multiple levels of access, so that access to personal information about a customer is available only to One-Stop staff who require it to meet that particular customers needs.

Guidelines for staff

In sharing personal customer information with others, One-Stop staff should consider the following issues:

  • Will the sharing of personal customer information result in the ability of the One-Stop system to better meet the customers needs?
  • Am I limiting the information shared strictly to what is relevant to this situation?
  • Is it possible for me to discuss an issue with others without identifying the customer by name?

Written by:

David Hoff